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A Way To Heal

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Molly Foster-Graham decided to put herself first. Herself and her son, of course. Will was gone and with him any opportunity to help him, save him or his soul. A lost cause.

Both Hannibal Lecter and his former patient were missing, and for the most part presumed dead. From the motion depicted by the blood spatter and footprints at the side of the cliff, FBI analysts were fairly certain that the fall of the two men was not accidental. Of course, they couldn't prove precise intent without speaking to either of the men themselves — and that wasn’t a possibility.

The investigation shouldered on, not discovering much. With how unconcerned the FBI seemed about keeping her in the loop, Molly felt adrift in a sea of confusion. She gravitated to news articles where real facts gave way to — often poorly founded — speculation. Through the ever-persistent media Molly was exposed to dime-a-dozen layman psychoanalyses by those in any way au fait with Will's apparently chequered past. It felt like a final injustice that she heard the most about her husband's past life not from Will himself in the years they had spent together, but in the detached, almost sneering words of tabloid journalists.

The death and subsequent mutilation of Randall Tier, the bloodbath at Lecter’s Baltimore house, the horrors of Florence and Mason Verger. It all painted a rather different picture of the Will Graham that she knew. The Will that gave the best back rubs when she was tired and worked on school projects with Wally into the early hours and spoke to their dogs as if they were people. The Will that loved their little family with all his heart, cherished it above all else. Or so she had thought.

She recalled how they had once — only once — talked about having children. Will had made it known that he couldn’t contend with the thought of passing on his cocktail of neuroses, damning a biological child with the difficulties that had marred his own life.

Molly had never fully understood his views — but then again how could she have while being shielded from that part of his life? Regardless, genetics weren’t the only way for Will to pass his struggles on. The trauma that he inspired had done quite the number on both her and her son.

The two were staying at a hotel in the city, a) as a reprieve from their now tainted home and b) for convenience as she dealt with FBI matters concerning Will. Molly gave and heard statement after statement, was briefed on updates now and then, and there were court hearings on the way too. Hard done by as she was, Molly scraped money together to pay for therapy for Wally and she tried her best to stay strong before him, a wall of protection. 

Molly’s own, self-enforced ‘therapy’ was beginning to take a rather more unorthodox form — three weeks to the day after her husband had gone over the edge of a cliff, she found herself on her way to visit his other former psychiatrist. Funnily enough, from what she’d heard about Frederick Chilton, unorthodoxy seemed to cling to the man.

Despite being termed 'a most magnificent survivor' by doctors and nurses alike, Frederick Chilton felt dead. A mosaic of second and third degree burns, he was a living corpse in more ways than one — even the foreign skin being grafted onto him was obtained from bodies of the dead.

Chilton didn't receive any visitors; who was there to visit? His culprits — those who were still breathing — had flown into the wind and would most likely have despised a reminder of the extreme lengths that they went to under Lecter's influence anyway. That was what all that he was now to Crawford and Bloom.

And yet he was stuck with himself, he could never forget. He had barely grasped onto his life, clawed back out of the jaws of death — and not for the first time either. In recovery, his days blurred into a haze of pain and despair, their only notable hallmarks being ice baths, dressing changes and skin graft procedures. 

One gloomy Sunday afternoon, his routine was broken.

Molly arrived at the Physical Rehabilitation Unit at Johns Hopkins, flowers in hand and a somber expression painting her face. Slipping into Room R14 through the door stood ajar, she found a certain burn patient resting in a hyperbaric chamber that took the place of a bed.

As for any prior impressions that were held on Molly’s part — Frederick Chilton had come up in conversation with Will only a handful of times, and it was no secret that he didn’t hold the doctor in the highest esteem. While she understood why that was, she struggled to see how anyone could feel less than at least a shred of sympathy for Chilton given his current situation; Molly felt much more than that.

"Doctor Chilton... you probably don’t know who I am, but I have heard quite a bit about you. I'm Molly Graham, Will's wife."

She tried not to allow her gaze to focus on the intricacies of his injuries, not to map of the ridges and sunken areas with her eyes. It was a challenge, even when Molly looked right at his face, because the burns were everywhere. Grey-green eyes opened and they glimmered, bright against a backdrop of mostly charred and blistered skin.

"Mrs Graham." Chilton had half a mind to turn his head away to ignore her completely but he resisted that urge, giving her a curt nod instead. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

It was that last word that drew focus to the state of Chilton's mouth. It seemed that he'd had new lips attached to the remainder of his previous set — from a recently dead body, Molly assumed, and she was right to do so. But the lips were apparently still ‘setting in’, not yet fully under the control of his own neuromuscular system. That explained why Frederick struggled with hard consonant vowels, particularly m, b, p and f — which required his lips to come together. Yet he expended effort to produce hard exhales on those sounds, which luckily made him more or less intelligible.

Besides being a touch garbled, his voice was soaked in acid too, tone sharp and bitter. That was a permanent feature now like the scars that he bore, not necessarily tailored to Molly for her relationship with one of the men because of whom he lay in that hospital.

"I wanted to wish you a –"

"If you think that you owe me anything as Will's –"

"No," Molly cut in, "I – It isn't only because of our mutual connection through Will that I’m here." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "The Tooth Fairy came after my son and I too, just days before you."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Frederick's reply came out without a thought; apparently his manners hadn't quite escaped him with his skin — he didn't even acknowledge that he already vaguely knew about Dolarhyde attacking Will Graham's family. "Is your son... alright?"

Feeling a little more secure in her presence there now that Chilton had engaged her, Molly took a seat beside where he lay. "Thankfully, yes, he was physically unharmed. I was shot in the shoulder as we escaped but it wasn't quite life-threatening."

In Chilton’s mind that checked another in a line of boxes as something more that they had in common. He had been shot once too, by another of Hannibal Lecter's proxies, another of the puppets on his strings. Strings that he had come to share control of with Will Graham.

"Mrs Graham," Frederick began, stern and cold, "you might say you are not here because of Will — but I would attest that he played a major role in the incitement of both of our attacks."

Molly didn’t reply to that statement as such, only tightened her grip on the bouquet that she held and focused on the steady, insistent beep of Chilton's heart monitor. Her evasion was duly noted but surprising himself, Frederick allowed her that.

"Sleep is always the first thing to go," he offered instead as means of continuing the conversation.

Molly wore her fatigue in her eyes and in the dark puffy circles around them, but there was also tragedy written in the shallow stress lines of her skin where they crinkled her forehead and the corners of her lips.

"Is it really that obvious?"

She couldn't sleep at night, and neither could Wally for that matter. Their hotel room had two beds but they spent most nights huddled together in just the one, not sure who was comforting whom as the quiet hours ticked by.

"Like recognises like." Frederick licked his dry lips and heaved in a lungful of air with the intent of speaking for longer now, and with more clarity. "I have a wealth of personal experience with trauma. I know that crippling fear inside out. I had a state of the art security system installed in my house, in addition to deadbolt doors. I hired bodyguards... and he still got to me."

Molly’s case was somewhat different; an inside job. In some way it was her own husband that had brought Dolarhyde to her doorstep, invited darkness into their home.

"I worry that my son will never be the same again."

"I would be inclined to agree with you."

False reassurances seemed to have no place in that room, and Molly found Frederick’s blunt honesty somewhat refreshing at a time where whoever else she encountered directly seemed to be tiptoeing around her.

"The thing with trauma," Chilton went on, "is that you can never go back to who you were before, as much as you might try. Internal scars mirror those external; as they heal inadequately they immortalise imperfection."

"Well, that is... uplifting."

Frederick scoffed — or made a sound that resembled a scoff. He hadn't lost his snark with his skin either. "Forgive me if optimism evades me at such a time."

"Optimism may evade me too, for some time yet," concurred Molly.

After all, she didn’t think that Will was coming back. There wasn’t even a glimmer of hope, not after the FBI found torn scraps of their clothing on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. The hands clasped around the bouquet suddenly felt as though they were trembling. So Molly busied them, lying the flowers down on the nightstand beside her and then folding them in her lap.

"I heard about what happened, in case you were wondering." Chilton admitted when his guest was settled in her seat again. "With Dolarhyde and Lecter and... Will." Frederick broached the subject without so much as a halfhearted attempt at finesse. "I am supposed to be isolated from 'stressful external forces' during my recovery, but this particular one reached me."

He had been informed weeks ago by one of Jack's minions that after teaming together to take down the Tooth Fairy, both Hannibal and Will were still missing and most likely dead.

"Ah. I see." Molly waited, patient, to see where he was going with this.

Chilton huffed unattractively, not that there was anything attractive about him these days.

"I would express my condolences for Will's passing but unfortunately they would be largely insincere." The doctor felt tremendously ugly on the inside too, to the point where he thought it could rival his outward appearance. Grotesque. "Between them, Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham comprehensively ruined my life."

Frederick only wished there had been more pain, more suffering like his own written in their fates, but he held that back from reaching his tongue.

Momentarily stunned into silence as she was, Molly couldn't seem to judge Chilton for being obnoxious or abrasive while knowing the atrocities that he had endured. She couldn't imagine that kind of pain. Conversely, there was something about the quiet compassion in her demeanor that prompted Frederick to dig deep inside himself and find some of his own.

"Nonetheless I am..." the word stuck in his throat but he willed it to his new lips – "sorry for what you have been through. Where I perhaps have little right to, you really must feel rather betrayed."

Now that really was sincere, there was no denying it, and Chilton surprised himself even more than he did his guest. See, down on his luck as he was, totally destoyed, Frederick actually pitied the woman. Perhaps mostly because it was quite satisfying to think himself still capable of pity given his current state.

For some reason he remembered the Tooth Fairy's friend, or girlfriend? How her blindness had stood in the way of understanding how dangerous this man she had let into her life was. He suspected similar forces to have been at play in Molly Graham’s case, although it was yet to be established whether her blindness stemmed from her own naïveté or from Graham making a conscious effort to pull the wool over her eyes. Chilton had always maintained conviction that there was something much darker lurking behind those doe eyes. 

"With all due respect," Molly began, pulling Frederick away from his racing thoughts and back into the room, "I think you have the right to be more than a little pissed off."

She smiled at him then, soft and benign. It came as no real surprise to Frederick that Molly didn't particularly want to delve into her likely turbulent feelings towards her now deceased husband with a practical stranger, and he wasn't quite in a place to bare his soul either. Still, it had been more than pleasant to finally converse with someone outside of hospital staff, someone who understood his experiences, to a limit. Even if she did have that same sympathy, that same pity in her eyes — perhaps everyone he ever met now would.

"Th–thank you for visiting, but uh... I still can't talk a lot. This is more than I am –" he coughed once, then twice more "– excuse me, used to."

"Oh, I understand." Molly took the hint, standing up. "Thank you for agreeing to speak with me, Dr Chilton. I wish you all the best with your recovery." She stepped away backwards, but then hesitated at the door. "Would it be alright if I visited again?"

Chapter Text

Being bed bound, and for the large part unable to move, left Frederick with a lot of spare time with only his own thoughts for company. With his two previous lengthy hospital admissions, the injuries — and therefore the pain — had been localised to one particular region of his body, leaving him able to partake in at least some normal activities. Now he couldn't even lift a pen to do crossword puzzles or take a walk around the ward. He missed the sun, and fresh air most of all. The windows were banned from being opened in his temperature-controlled room lest the cold breeze dry out his sensitive skin. Watching inane reality shows on the television, day after day, was getting to be unbearable. Boredom came to rival Frederick's pain in making his hospital experience living hell. 

On some days curiosity threatened to get the better of him and he considered really looking down at his body, something which he otherwise avoided, and perhaps even summoning the courage to ask for a mirror to look at his face. This was already by far the longest time he had spent without looking at himself in a mirror and if he was truly honest with himself Frederick suspected that he might never look in a mirror again.

With all of that time on his hands, he would have been lying if he claimed that his thoughts never reached Molly Graham. He occasionally found himself wondering when she might visit again, or if she ever actually would, because talking was one of the very few things that Chilton could still do — just about.  

Molly came to see him again the weekend after her first visit, bearing flowers as before. Upon her entrance, she placed the bouquet besides where her previous one, now showing signs of wilting, had been placed in a vase by one of the nurses. Apart from that there were no other gifts or even cards from anybody else. It didn't take an analytical mind to understand how alone Chilton was.

"Please, you don't need to bother with flowers. I can't even smell them." 

"I'm sorry, I – I didn't know. If there's anything specific that you might need from outside, feel free to ask."

"I don't believe there is, but thank you for the offer."

Molly took the same seat again, that lone chair besides where Chilton lay. "How have you been getting on?"

"Much the same." Almost every inch of his skin — if one could still call it skin — burned all over again even when he just breathed deeply, and the new painkillers he was on made him drowsy and disorientated. "Yourself?"

"Hmm, okay — considering."

"And how is... your son?"

"Doing a little better, actually." At that thought, Molly allowed the hint of a smile to creep onto her lips. "Although we both can't wait to get out of the goddamn city."

"So you're country folk."

Unwillingly, Frederick recalled that Will hadn't been one for the city either — he had lived miles out in what was essentially the middle of nowhere. Frederick couldn't also help but remember his one visit to the Wolf Trap house, and the events that had unfolded in its wake. At least the scar of his bullet wound wasn't so obvious now. Silver linings.

Molly carried the conversation, unaware of Chilton's inner dialogue. "Yes, I'm born and bred in the country. I know it's a simple little world out there, but... that's just how I like it."

Except the simple little world that Molly treasured had been turned upside down, it had been all but bulldozed in recent months.

"I grew up in the country too," Frederick offered.

"You did?"

"It's hard to believe? It was only when I was very young. We moved to Florida, to the city, before I began middle school."

"I wouldn't have guessed it. Where, Miami?"

Chilton nodded, forgetting how much that action tugged at his developing scar tissue. He was abruptly reminded of that by a sharp burst of pain, and he tried not to wince through it.

Molly was lost in her thoughts anyway, lost in intrigue. There was definitively nothing Miami about Doctor Chilton, and she reasoned that he had probably worked hard to lose any regional airs. His disciplined demeanor still came through now, despite his current state. It was woven in the way he spoke, in his vernacular — or lack of it.

"So... are you going back home, then?" Frederick asked. "Or did..."

"He was there."

As difficult as it was for Chilton to form any discernible facial expression, Molly couldn't miss the knowing look in his eyes. 

She elaborated: "Nothing actually happened at the house but knowing he was there, breathing within those walls of our home is enough. Living there, I’d forever be on edge, afraid of what might lurk in the shadows. He'll always be tied to the place."

Will would be too.

"It's understandable. The place is marred for you now but you — you should still have more luck selling your house than I did three years ago."

Molly's brows furrowed, a question held behind them. "Why is that?" she asked.

"Hannibal Lecter killed two FBI agents in my house and also left a half-eaten body in my basement, to frame me."

"Christ alive."

He hummed — or tried to — in assent. "So... where will you go?"

"My parents live up in Ohio, so we'll stay with them for a while, over the summer at least while Wally doesn't have school. Perhaps relocate nearby permanently, get a new house there."

"You seem to have it all planned." Frederick thought that commendable, given the uprooting that she had recently experienced.

"What about you? What's next for you?"

It wasn't often that Doctor Frederick Chilton was lost for words, but right then he was. For a few seconds.

"I... haven't really thought about next. As  you can see, this.. is everything right now."

His recovery was going to take months, years. Countless skin grafts, physical therapy, extensive cosmetic and re-constructive surgery, he was in for it all. Relying rightfully on the FBI's dime, he was going to do whatever it took to get him looking in any shape or form like his previous self. Just as he thought of the damned FBI, Frederick's eyes fell on the visitor badge still clipped to Molly's cardigan. 

"Are they keeping you busy at the BAU?"

"Yes, I..." Molly sunk into her seat with a drawn out sigh "– have had the pleasure of being tortured by their bureaucracy."

"Our dear Jack Crawford?"

"No, no, thankfully not Jack Crawford. Oh, I'd only be glad to see him in hell with his back broken."

The expression that Molly chose to use immediately drew her own attention; it was one of Will's. The realisation made her heart wrench, her chest tighten with nostalgia. It was only natural that she had picked up some of his idiosyncrasies, the way you do when you spend so much of your time with one particular person. But it somehow felt as though those turns of phrase were the only thing that Will had left her with. No answers, no real closure or vindication. That in itself was part of the reason Molly was sat where she was at Chilton's side.

"Anything in particular that he has done to garner your ardent disapproval?"

"He took Will out of our home, dragged him back into a world that he had done everything to put behind him and recover from."

"Hmm..." Chilton bought himself time, unsure whether he wanted continue with that thread of conversation. 

It was transparent to him; Molly directed so much blame towards Jack for taking Will in order to avoid blaming Will himself. Frederick understood that it was easier for her to have Will die as a martyr in her eyes, rather than as her culprit in anyway. But the truth remained the truth. As Frederick saw it, Graham's case was unarguable.

"You really hold him accountable, don't you?" Molly asked, a silent dare hidden behind her words. "Will."

"You'll have to be more specific as to what for." 

"For what has just happened to you, for starters."

"This did not just – happen to me." Chilton began to sound patronising. "It wasn't a random act of God or some natural disaster."

No, there had been a series of knock-on events that had led him to where he now was, and when Frederick traced back the line of action went through Will Graham and inextricably, Hannibal Lecter.

"You chose to be a part of their trap, didn't you? You knew the risks."

Molly wasn't sure whether she was trying to sway Chilton's view on the matter or tailor her own. At that point, Frederick didn't think much of the way that she pressed him... something he would come to regret. 

"I did offer my services," he conceded, "but not like that. I will freely admit to my foolishness, my avidity to be a part of such a high-profile case."

Chilton was aware of his own mistakes, and surprisingly found himself willing to accept them — to a limit, of course.

"But Will openly volunteered to be the bait," he argued. "Then, knowing that the Tooth Fairy attacked pets first, he goaded him, deliberately placed his hand on my shoulder in the photograph, like a pet." Frederick was almost spitting the words out now. "He chose to set me up while keeping the full protection of a SWAT team all to himself."

So yes, the doctor was angry, yes he was bitter and he felt strongly that he had every right to inhabit those emotions. At this stage in his life he wasn't about to temper his opinions for anyone's sake.

"It sounds as though – how can you say that it's Will alone who is guilty?" Molly's composure slipped and incredulity made itself at home in her voice. "Aren't you forgetting Dolarhyde himself?"

She heard how she sounded, clutching at straws, and at times like this Molly cursed the way that her fierce protectiveness towards Will lingered, unwelcome, how her lips itched to argue against everyone that wrote him off as sharing a darkness with the likes of Hannibal Lecter. He had been her light. Still, as much as she wanted to deny the rumours, every last one... she regularly wondered whether those capable of impartiality were just more inclined to understanding Will's true nature, which she might never have herself.

"Guilt and blame are not absolute concepts," Chilton explained, a vein of irritation emerging in his otherwise even tone now. "They are doled out to varying degrees and aside from the obvious, Lecter and Dolarhyde themselves, Will's share is the largest."

"But... how could you possibly know his intent for sure?"

Managing for a moment to see past the emotive response that the topic roused in himself, Frederick suddenly understood why Molly was there, why she had been visiting him. It wasn't anything to do with him.

It was just to understand Will.

His stomach dropped despite himself but he clawed back control of the conversation along with his guards.

"I am certain. He knew. Just as he knew exactly what he was doing when he went back to work for Jack. So if you are here planning on pleading his case in any fashion, I would advise you to save yourself the breath –"

"Oh no, I don't mean to..." Molly's eyes widened and she shook her head as her features softened. "I'm just trying to understand why he did what he did, why he joined forces with Hannibal Lecter after everything he had done, why he... went off the cliff with him."

Frederick had allowed his visitor to say her piece, he had allowed her an attempt to explain herself but it was time for him to shut this down.

"I have spent enough time in the past trying to understand the inner workings of the mind of Will Graham. I am officially finished psychoanalysing him." He didn't give a flying fuck about Will anymore; good riddance to him. "You won't find what it is that you seek here, Mrs Graham. Whether that may be real answers or simply false validation for his actions. Excuses."

With that he turned his head away from Molly, gritting his teeth as the stretch stung, and let his eyes lid over. It hurt to recede, but being used hurt more. Was Frederick really worth nothing more than a pawn, was that how everybody saw him? All of his supposed peers: Bloom, Crawford, Graham and now even Graham's wife. As if he only existed to be manipulated for the execution of their own intentions.

"Doctor Chilton, I didn't mean – we don't... we don't have to –"

"Spare yourself the trouble, Mrs Graham. I would... like to be alone now."

Molly swallowed her resistance and scrambled to her feet. "I, um – I understand. The very best of luck to you with your recovery, Doctor."

Chapter Text

She could very well have left it alone, but she didn't. 

In the days following her disastrous second visit to the hospital where Frederick Chilton was admitted, Molly had introspected and as painful as it was to accept it, she knew that she needed to stop seeing her husband through such rose-tinted glasses and confront the truth. His truth and by extension, hers.

On his side, Chilton really didn't expect that Molly Graham would come back, and he — for the most part — didn’t want her to. But she returned.

"Mrs Graham. To what do I owe the pleasure?" he asked, his voice veritably dripping with sarcasm.

"I wanted to apologise." Taking small and hesitant steps further into the room, she exuded an air of sincerity, not thrown off by Chilton's coldness. "Last week, I truly didn't mean to give off the impression that I was here chiefly searching for an insight into Will’s behaviour near... the end. That isn't true."

"Well, then why are you here? Why do you choose to come to this godforsaken place and talk with me? Do you really expect me to believe that it is nothing to do with... all of that? Will?"

Chilton's shield of cautious scepticism wasn’t going to lower with ease. Considering his past experiences, he had a wealth of validation for the distrusting nature that he now protected himself with.

"Admittedly, I am here because you're a part of this whole... mess. You know all that went down and... we both understand quite a bit of what the other has been through."

"Jack Crawford and any number of his FBI cronies know very well what you've been through, Mrs Graham."

"Yes, but I hate Jack Crawford. And all of his — cronies, as you call them, who speak either in police jargon or in some kind of pretentious metaphor."

"So, you're here only because out of whoever is left you don't quite hate me?"

"No, I like talking to you. Despite everything, you're — for want of a better word — normal."

"Me, normal?"

"Yes, more so than most of the people I have come across here. With probably the greatest reason to be, you're the only person I know deeply involved in this case who hasn't been reduced to Hannibal Lecter's... level, his ways."

"You don't know that." After all, he had done some terrible things in his past life, things he wasn't proud of in the slightest but he had tried to better himself, certain circumstances inciting positive change in his nature. A fat lot of good it had done him.

Molly held her ground. "I know that you're not dangerous." 

A sound resembling a laugh emerged from Frederick's mouth, bitter and hollow. He most certainly wasn't dangerous where he lay now, the body he had always treated as a temple left frail and desecrated.

"How on Earth did you figure that one out?"

Chilton knew that he lacked that 'agency' that Hannibal Lecter had heaps of, that ability to entrance others into doing his bidding even when he was under lock and key. That was a conversation for another time, if ever. In a way though, Frederick didn't want to give him the bastard the joy of hearing them giving any weight to his legacy from wherever he was rotting in hell.

Meanwhile, Molly took his rhetorical question as an opportunity to move the conversation on.

"I brought you something, it's probably stupid but..." She twisted around to take a pile of DVDs out of the tote bag slung over her shoulder, put them on the nightstand and then the bag down at her feet.

"Just a handful of DVDs that I had with me when I was in hospital, old films that I like. The channels that they have available on these hospital TVs... well, let's just say that I couldn't stand those ridiculous daytime reality shows."

"I feel the same way, funnily enough. Thank you." Chilton quickly scanned through the film names visible on the spines of the cases; they didn't look half bad. "Really, I'm sure these will fare much better."

"It's no problem," Molly said with a sincere smile, "I know this isn't much but I can only hope it might make things even just a little nicer for you here."

It was growing increasingly difficult to for Frederick to maintain any negative sentiment towards Molly when she was so genuinely kind. He knew vacuous pity, he could recognise it a mile away and with her he simply didn't get that feeling. Molly's concern didn't feel forced and even when keeping in mind how her last visit ended, he couldn't find it in himself to hold onto any contempt.

Then again, as history had proven time and time over — Frederick's judgment of character often left much to be desired. So he remained slightly wary.

"Thank you again." Chilton's eyes narrowed and his gaze hardened. "Was there something that you wanted?"

Her reappearance still felt unexplained, as though there were something strange behind it; he just had a hunch.

"A bit of pleasant company, that’s all."

Frederick Chilton had been called a lot of things in his life — many of which he held no joy in remembering — but the word ‘pleasant’ was absent from that list, or at least a very long way down it.

"Pleasant?" he questioned, and if he still had his eyebrows they would have been knit in confusion.

"I don't know exactly what it is, but somehow I just... feel peaceful here."

"Mrs Graham –"

"It's Ms Foster," she corrected, before rushing to add "– or Molly, I'd prefer just Molly."

Addressing Molly by her first name felt egregiously informal but that was exactly what this meeting between the two of them was. Informal, casual, friendly even. Bizarre too, for sure.

Especially the way she seemed to have dropped Will's last name as her own. Somehow it was then that Molly's plight really rang home for Frederick, and he realised just how much she had lost in these past months. Her husband, her peace of mind and her home — her whole family had fallen apart.

It had been a long time since he had anything close to a family, but he remembered that deep sting like it was yesterday, the loss of your supposed nearest and dearest. And more generally, he knew intimately what it was like to have your entire world crumble around you — although in his case, things tended to go out with a bang instead of a crumble as such.

Only about twenty seconds after Molly's request did Frederick realise he hadn't said a word in all that time.

"Molly —"

Am I the only person for you to speak to? Frederick wanted to ask, but he bit his tongue. Having been married to Will Graham, Frederick would have hedged his bets that she was unlikely to be the most extroverted and sociable individual.

"— don't most people hate visiting hospitals?" he wondered instead. "There's a pervasive ominous atmosphere in these places, but that is something I am used to being in the presence of by now."

"I guess that I've grown somewhat used to it too." Aside from during her own recent admission, Molly had spent a lot of time in various hospitals when her first husband was succumbing to cancer, more memories that were better off repressed. "Isn't it weird that I find being here comforting now?

Dreadful things happened in hospitals, dreadful things precluded hospital admissions and yet there was a sense of calm about Physical Rehabilitation Unit, of recuperation and the possibility of second chances. Third or fourth chances in some cases. Perhaps what Molly saw in that place was a reflection of what she wanted to experience for herself — healing.

"If here is comforting, in the way that you say it, that precludes that the outside world is very much not."

"Maybe it's because I feel so disorientated out there. Because I'm still trying to get my bearings after everything that has happened."

There was a strong feeling of irritation and frustration at herself behind Molly's words, which irked Frederick somehow.

"I would opine that there would be something wrong if you didn't feel that way. It really is a normal response to a highly abnormal situation."

Provided her first real glimpse of Chilton's psychiatrist self as she was, Molly felt genuinely reassured by his words.

"Maybe you're right," she conceded. "Everything has changed so quickly... You know, in the moments right after I wake up in the morning I have to consciously remind myself that this is my reality now."

She would wake each day in a hard and unfamiliar bed, lacking those wonderfully warm arms around her along with any sense of security, and it was horrible. But perspective suddenly slapped her in the face. 

"God, look at me, complaining to you about my petty problems when the horrors that you have — I'm sorry, Doctor Chilton."

It was plain to see that Chilton was remarkably resilient for braving through all the horrible things that life had hurled his way. That overarching fighting spirit that he possessed was clear to see, but Molly was careful not to express that in a way that seemed to be patronising him. She had a feeling that he wouldn't take well to that at all.

"Call me Frederick, please. And don't apologise; this is a two-way street — I'm sure that we both have plenty of complaining to do." So he took his opportunity to do just that, following in a similar vein to Molly's confession just moments before. "The new painkillers I have been prescribed turn my mind all... fuzzy sometimes," he told her. "As of late, I tend to wake up right in the hold of a panic attack — heart ready to beat right out of my chest and with my whole body quaking — because I don't understand where I am and what it is that has happened to me."

Shell-shocked at that confession, Molly could only speak in a whisper, tilting her head down to break eye contact. "I don't know what to say to that."

"You don't need to say anything," Frederick assured her, "just being able to get that out felt... cathartic, somehow. Do go on, I believe it's your turn."

Winning out against her initial reluctance, Molly went along with it. "For one, I have a sizeable hotel bill racking up every day that the two of us spend in the city..."

"Oh, uh – what about your dogs?"

"How do you know we– I have dogs?"

"I knew that Will did and I assumed he wouldn't be one to give them up." There was an odd tension in the air as Frederick brought up Molly’s husband, but it was probably best that he did so. It was a way to communicate that he didn't expect her to act as though Will had never ever existed, only to refrain from centring their topic of conversation on him.

"He wasn't. Combined, we have ten." Her gaze drifted to the window as her chest tightened with a sense of longing.

"So where are they right now?"

"Once they were discharged from the vet — because he– Dolarhyde poisoned them — we sent them to my parents. So they're still there, waiting for Wally and I to join them."

"Your poor parents."

Molly smiled warmly and tilted her head to one side. "You don't like dogs, Frederick?"

"Not ten."

"Fair enough." Shrugging her shoulders, she allowed herself to indulge in a few sweet memories, which were unavoidably accompanied by a pang of nostalgia. "I guess I just have a penchant for collecting strays."

Will did too, and the two of them shared that thought in the silence that followed. Frederick's next thought, however, was the seed of a musing about whether he might in some way qualify as Molly's most recent stray. After all, he was surely in more of a pathetic state than any of the dogs would have been before they were rescued.

In addition to that, even though his sense of smell was shot, Frederick suddenly found himself wondering whether Molly smelled like dogs, whether she smelled like Will. For the first time he was grateful to be relieved of that particular sense. As he knew well, it was the sense most tightly linked to memory, and he did not want to remember.

"Anyway –" said Molly, providing a welcome interruption to Frederick's thoughts, "I have to do what I have to do. Claw my way through this so that I can get them back, my dogs, and my life."

"You will. I know that we don't know each other all that well, but for what it is worth — I can clearly see that you are... an incredibly strong person."

With the corners of her lips tugged up just slightly, Molly reached out and laid her hand on the bed, only the tips of her fingers resting on Chilton's own.

"If I am then so are you, Frederick."

Chapter Text

He wasn't expecting her.

Eyes drawn sideways by the sudden knock on the door and its subsequent opening, Frederick gasped, shocked — pleasantly shocked — to see his only regular visitor back so soon after she last came by the hospital.

"Molly... it's good to see you again."

"You too, Frederick."

The beginning credits of a movie that Molly didn't immediately recognise were running on the television screen mounted high on the wall opposite Frederick's bed, accompanied by some mediocre pop-rock song.

"Do you mind if I...?" She gestured towards the screen, hand curved as if holding an imaginary remote control.

"No, you go ahead, of course."

Molly grabbed the real remote control from the nightstand and hit the pause button before returning it to its original place. When she settled on the seat beside him, Frederick tilted his head and directed his gaze towards the television again.

"Thank you again for the DVDs that you brought; time passes a little more easily when I can manage to keep my mind occupied somehow."

Not that all of the movies had been to his usual taste — but they had helped him nonetheless, they had fostered distraction at the very least and enjoyment at their best.

"You're very welcome, I'm so glad to hear that. So..." Molly's lips tightened into a thin smile and Frederick's well-trained eyes scanned her face in a flash.

"I cannot be sure exactly what it is, but you – look to be doing better, better than before," he told her.

"You know — I think I am, but it's certainly reassuring to hear it from you, too."

"It eases."

Those two little words were enough to elicit a sting at the backs of Molly's eyes. "God, I hope so."

In a way, it was beginning to ease, the burden of pain, of mourning. Slowly but surely, regular sleep was returning to Molly's day-to-day life — although that was most likely a consequence of fatigue finally catching up with her more than peace.

"You... look better too," she returned.

"You don't have to say that."

For a moment there Frederick felt sick to his core, a sucker punch to the gut at the way that most of the charred, scarred remains of his body were displayed for anyone to see — anyone at all but his visitor in particular.

"You look... happier, if that's the right word," Molly elaborated, "if happiness as such is possible at a time like this. Anyway, this... contentment, whatever it is, I think it suits you." 

She managed to cease her rambling then, but her words had been completely honest. If he could have seen it for himself, Frederick might have understood what it was that Molly actually meant, but he couldn't, so he didn't.

"Contentment? Here? I can barely lift my new lips into a smile — not that I have any reason to," he complained.

He might not have been able to smile but Frederick could still roll his eyes — well, the functional one.

"You don't need to smile," Molly began to explain, "It's in your voice. I know we might not have known each other for that long, but I can just tell."

"Well, I suspect the good company has something to do with my good mood," Frederick admitted truthfully before he could draw the risky words back from his tongue, but then proceeded to bury them under another topic of conversation instead. "I did also watch The Breakfast Club today which is a true classic and a favourite of mine."

"Oh! Same here," Molly replied, with a mild surprise slipping into her tone. "I brought it here especially because I know it always makes me feel – I'm not sure how to describe it, but hopeful, in a way. And also less... alone in my little struggles."

"It surely suggests that... we are all more alike than we realise. Perhaps we do in fact experience so many universal battles within ourselves in spite of our varying outward demeanour."

"I like to think so." She cleared her throat of rising emotion. "Nostalgia also plays a part in my enjoyment of the movie too."

Nostalgia in that regard was a complicated beast for Frederick. He remembered first watching it at a school friend's house and it hadn't had much of an impact on him then, but he had seen it for the second time when he was struggling through a existential crisis of doubt during his medical residency. In fact, it was one of the little things that had mounted and spurred him to pursue his real interest, psychiatry, in place of surgery — the field that his parents had expected him to both enter and excel in.

"Nostalgia?" he questioned, putting a pin in his own memories for the time being. "You're too young to relate to it like that!" Chilton cursed his loose tongue once again and then clarified himself. "I mean — I'm sure you weren't a teenager like me in those times."

His observation hadn't been in a smooth or knowing tone, and it wasn't received as such either. Molly just laughed, only slightly restrained.

"It still reminds me of being younger, like a warm blanket of familiarity. I've tried to get Wally to watch it with me but he won't sit still for anything made before the turn of the century."

"How old is he exactly?"

"Eleven."

"Perhaps in a few years."

"Hmm, maybe."

Molly neglected to mention that Will had curled up on the couch to watch it with her, with popcorn and all, but her stubborn mind didn't allow her the luxury of escaping that memory.

Just like that, he slithered back into his thoughts, as if banishing the all too brief respite of a clear head. Will was always there at the back of her mind, an ever present force pulling her backwards. Backward and down into a pit of confusion, doubt and lamentation.

In spite of reason Molly would still find herself there often, because what really stung — the real twist of the knife in her chest — was that she knew he had genuinely loved her. Her heart had already been damaged when she met him, riddled with imperfections but Will had filled the cracks with his love and made her whole again. So as much as her rational mind explained it away, there was always the thought lurking in her mind that she had done him wrong. That she should have done more, been more for him.

It was not only ridiculous but also useless to think that and she actually knew it. Will's decision about whether or not to delve back into that world had had nothing to do with her. (Although as his life partner perhaps it should have had everything to do with her, that was one of the many ruminations that haunted her now.)

But Molly refrained from verbalising any of those troubling inner thoughts; she refused to grant her demons an outspoken voice but that allowed their weight to pile heavier and heavier onto her conscious mind, giving her no clue how she might relieve it. Hell, she didn't even know why she gravitated back to that hospital room time and time again, why Frederick Chilton of all people — known for being abrasive and showy in stark contrast to her caring and humble — felt somewhat like kin to her.

One thing that Molly knew well, though, was how it hurt to be adrift, directionless. That particular ache had returned to her life time and time again, and it was even one of the things that had drawn her and Will together, two lost souls reaching out for a shared stability.

Stability was a thing of the past now, a distant pipe dream.

"Oh Christ," she suddenly realised aloud, breaking her thoughts away from self pity, "I should have asked already... how did your surgery go?"

Touched that she remembered at all, Chilton's eyes glinted as the faintest hint of a soft smile curled up the corners of his lips.

"The skin grafts were all successful, or they seem so thus far. They have become a kind of routine for me now; I don't know if that's funny or tragic. Probably both."

"But the pain?" Molly wondered with an unintentional grimace.

"It's there, but not so bad, because... you see, the surprising advantage of my having so many third degree burns is that by this point, those are painless. Numb, because — my nerve endings are fried."

"Oh. I d– I didn't know that."

"So I'll make it through whatever procedures I need to... fix this. Medical first and then cosmetic too, this is all on the FBI's dime now so I fully intend to take them for all they're worth."

"Good for you." The usually gentle resting expression on Molly's face turned severe as a mirror to her thoughts. "They're real assholes there, you know that?"

"Oh, I know," murmured Frederick. "In which particular ways have they chosen to display their utter incompetency to you?"

"Will... is dead." She swallowed down the lump that formed in her throat at mere mention of that, and pressed on. "We all know that, or else they would have found him. But the FBI point blank refuse to officially declare him as 'missing, presumed dead' instead of only 'missing'."

It took a burst of willpower but when Frederick removed himself from the whole situation, when he placed his own grudges against Graham aside, he naturally felt expansive sympathy for his widow.

"Did they inform you why they won't close the case? Do they have a lead, or..."

"They have nothing. But they still tell me that the investigation is technically ongoing, so..."

"What? That is utter... horseshit, uh — excuse my language."

"It is horseshit. It's been months, we already had his memorial service, I..." Molly shook her head and her posture slouched under the weight of the world. "What am I supposed to do? How do I find real closure when..."

Frederick watched on helplessly, his stomach twisting into a knot as his visitor closed her eyes tightly — and obviously in order to hold back the tears that were pooling at their corners.

"On top of that," she breathed out a few long moments later, attempting to compose herself as she met Chilton's gaze again, "I know it's not the most pressing issue but as long as Will’s still presumed to be alive, I can't collect his life insurance or any of his pensions. And the city's damn expensive."

Will and Hannibal might have been the ones who had found death but Molly felt suspended in limbo herself, a purgatory of uncertainty, plagued by contradictory emotions all at once. As well as feeling that she had wronged him, there was a gradually crescendoing voice in her head telling her that she may have been misguided in allowing Will into her life — and her son's — in the first place. In a way, it didn’t matter which was closer to the truth, because they both hurt like a stake through her heart.

Chilton understood what it meant to be stranded in a valley of tragedy with no obvious way out, no clear journey laid out for getting back up again. They shared similar junctures of their lives, and he just knew in that moment that he would do whatever was in his power to find Molly a safe path through at least a part of it.

"You cannot let them walk all over you," he announced, "there are no two ways about it."

"Believe me Frederick, I don't intend to. I won't. But I would really appreciate some advice, seeing as you have experienced dealing with them through your own troubling — incidents and I definitely can't afford a fancy lawyer or advisor or anything like that."

Frederick's eyes opened wider, then lit up with an inspiration that didn't go amiss.

"You do know that you have a case to sue them? For gross negligence and a disregard for Will’s mental state. They really should be covering for your accommodation while you have to remain in the city, and providing you both with post-trauma counselling and other such services." His voice had pushed past prickly and was fast approaching irate. "What happened with... Will and Hannibal should never overshadow the needs of you and your son as innocent victims in all of this... mess."

And so Chilton found himself helping Molly to get her affairs in order. She visited on most days over the next week and she would bring along with her the paperwork she had been dumped with by various agents, all sorts of official forms, declarations and the like. He would help her as best he could with making sense of their jargon, filling out the necessary forms and with more general advice too. His wealth of past experience meant that he knew who to recommend that she talk to and which useless individuals to avoid entirely at the BAU, as well as how to speed up certain processes.

As each day fell by, Chilton looked forward to Molly's visits with increasing eagerness, a fact that he chalked down to feeling genuinely useful in any capacity for the first time in all the months that he had spent in that godforsaken hospital bed.

There was more to it though, of course there was. Molly Foster was one of those rare gems of a person with whom it was effortless to converse, a vortex in whose company time passed faster and more comfortably than elsewhere. She just had a knack for drawing others out of their shells; she engaged Frederick and wove her experiences with his own to create a sense of shared despair, yes, but also tentative growth, recovery. He couldn't help but imagine that this nature of her personality would have endeared her to Will too, even despite how introverted he had otherwise been.

And yet as he grew to know her for her real self, Molly's connection to Will and Frederick's initial view of her as the wife of one of his culprits grew dimmer and dimmer in his mind. She seemed to take a real interest in him and his well-being — but when the time came, it still didn't take very much for Frederick's insecurities to latch onto an idea and wrap themselves obstinately around it.

One day, Molly didn't come to the hospital when he had been expecting her and in the following hours Frederick rode a rollercoaster of worries that gave way to serious concerns. He wondered:

What would happen when she didn't need his help anymore? When she no longer had any use for him?

So, perhaps inevitably, he began to consider the notion that Molly was only a part of his pathetic little life because he was assisting her, and she would be gone with the wind as soon as she was done.

Fuck, since when did he feel so much?

Of course, Molly arrived to see him in due course, complaining about traffic, and the warm, radiant smile she gave him in apology was like a ray of sunshine beaming down from the blue sky that he saw so little of those days. It dissipated every last one of his fears, if only for the time being.

Since when did he feel so much?

Chapter Text

"I come bearing more books," grinned Molly, swiftly exchanging the neat pile on the nightstand with a new set of books from her tote bag.

From where he was sat propped up in bed, Frederick peered at the titles on their spines, eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Wait, those..."

"– Are from your personal collection. I won't lie, it took me a while to gather some relatively... harmless, non-psychiatry related reads from your bookshelves."

"You're an angel," he professed. "But how did you...?"

She tapped her nose and tilted her head to one side playfully, sinking down onto her usual seat. "I have my ways, Frederick."

"That much is evident."

"I'm just so glad that you're moving around more now, that you sit up properly for extended lengths of time and can actually read and do other little things that you enjoy."

"Oh, as am I. I'd been itching to get back to reading again, this week has been the best in a long while."

Flipping pages had been the major barrier presented to his resumption of reading; it turned out to be much more delicate and fiddly work than Chilton would have realised before all of this. The things one takes for granted.

"Thank you," he said sincerely, but Molly waved away his gratitude. "I went outside today. The sun was hidden behind clouds all day so they allowed me to wheel out into the yard and take in the crisp, fresh air. It was... nice."

"That's great! Oh, you'll be up and running again before you know it, I'm sure of that."

Frederick was healing fast, his body perhaps by now used to recovering from serious trauma. He was good at healing — physically. It would no doubt be many more months before he was done with his attempts at restoration to his past form, but his progress was promising.

Molly had been instrumental in shaping his optimistic mindset, had proved a great source of motivation to him. Encouraged him through all of his painful exercises and made landmarks in his recovery feel more like real achievements — a foil to that voice in Chilton's head that found it demeaning for him to have to aspire to such lowly goals in the first place.

The two caught up on the events of the past few days, with Frederick recounting his travels around the building and Molly chipping in too, only less than usual; she was quieter than usual.

"So... what is it?" Frederick summoned the courage to ask during a lull in their conversation.

"I... don't think I know what you mean."

"There's something that you want to tell me. You keep getting this look on you're face as if you need to get out something that you are holding back."

Dread filled Chilton's insides as he mentally prepared himself for the revelation that Molly was leaving, that this was farewell and loneliness would find him again. 

"They did it, they finally declared him... it's over."

Will was officially presumed dead.

There it was, that was it, she'd be off and away soon enough. It had always been looming on the horizon, encroaching day by day and now it had finally arrived.

"It doesn't feel like the colossal relief that I expected it to," sighed Molly.

"How could it? It's... final." Frederick's voice dropped to a whisper. "So of course you must miss him; it's only natural, and..."

She shook her head dismissively, the colour draining from her face. "You don't want to talk about him."

Chilton had told her as much and she hadn't forgotten it.

"No," he concurred, "I most certainly do not want to talk about The Will Graham, the Bureau's star profiler. But — if it might help you in any way, dare I call you... my friend — we can talk about your husband, the man that you loved and lost."

"Thank you." Molly's voice was laced with sincerity but timid, and she avoided meeting Chilton's gaze.

He endured the pain that it took to smile until she continued.

"You know, in a way he was a victim too."

"I couldn't deny that; he was a victim."

Just as Chilton was a culprit in his own way. Far from a complete innocent but also unfairly wronged himself. They had all tainted themselves and corrupted each other in vicious cycles that had been near impossible to break out of. Downward spirals where morality and immorality had bled into each other, creating sickening shades of grey.

"There are times in the quiet of the night when.... I can almost feel his warmth beside me, the familiar comfort of his breath on the back of my neck and — I feel as though I failed him. I let him go, sent him off to his doom."

The guilt, liquid, that coursed through Molly's every vein, finally found an outlet and the floodgates gave way. Guilt whispered into her very being that she had fallen short, that she hadn't been enough for Will, that she'd never truly tried to connect with the less amenable, more complicated side of him. That she hadn't loved him deeply or truly enough to save him.

And yet Molly knew it couldn't be so because she had loved him with all of herself, his baggage included. She had loved Will as much on the hard days as on the easy days, and through every single night when he had collapsed into her lap, his mind beaten and battered. She had loved his best and his worst. 

When fickle conviction found her, Molly grasped onto the belief that matters weren't how they were portrayed in the tabloids. That the foundation that her life was built on didn't boil down to an open-and-shut case of Will having feigned happiness while longing for this other immoral, dangerous life all along. Because they didn't know him; she did. He had been happy. Compared to how broken he was when they had first met, Will had been so much more stable, more rooted and far less tightly wound.

But she had let him go.

"Molly... he chose to go. He failed you."

Perhaps it was the way that Chilton implored her with glistening green eyes as he levelled his gaze, perhaps it was just the clarity of his words but what he said cut through the bullshit to her rational mind.

Molly was left unable to deny his viewpoint outright, and he had plenty more where that came from.

"God, he should never have hitched himself to your post. There are certain people in this world that are simply not meant for a happy, normal domestic life."

It was an extreme opinion for Chilton to express but there was a part of Molly that had been screaming the same all along, that had always suspected that these days of painful reality would arrive sooner or later.

"You're not all wrong, I know that, but I... I guess I'm still coming to terms with the fact that the man I loved and married was really an illusion. That he was only what Will had desperately wished he could be."

Having never heard of such a concept as a grace period, Freddie Lounds had been back to her usual ways, and bile crept up Molly's throat with every single headline that she lacked the self-control to resist reading.

The worst part was that term that Lounds had coined for the relationship between him and Will, the term that had spread like a virulent disease through the media despite being as distasteful as it was. The term that unarguably stemmed from something real — because all it had taken was a snap of Hannibal Lecter's fingers and Will was gone.

Perhaps he was never truly hers.

On some level Molly might always have known that, known that there were some things that he kept buried inside, unable to unburden himself of them by sharing with her. Red flags had been dotted all throughout their relationship and more than anything else she felt like a stupid, naive fool.

It hadn't been real. Her Will had never even existed. There was only the man who had betrayed her, who had colluded with the very serial killer who was bent on destroying the life that they had built together.

"You deserved more," Chilton stated outright, with no need for nuanced facial expressions when the look in his eyes was soft and fond, "you deserve more."

"It's all done now." Molly tore her gaze away from him and looked down instead, beginning to pick at the skin around her nails. "Oh, why are we still talking about Will? I'm sorry."

"You never need apologise for what you feel, Molly. I'm — not glad, but relieved that you feel able to share your grievances with me. I only wish there were something that I could do to help, but sadly —"

"No, this... it does help." You do help.

Silence swept over them for a few long moments, the room becoming so quiet that the whirring sounds of its medical machines were amplified, as were those of their steady breaths, strained with emotion.

"Th- then I am glad."

Over the weeks that they had come to know each other, Molly and Frederick had gradually settled into an unspoken agreement to listen sympathetically to each other's fears and concerns, to provide advice, and perhaps most crucially — unwavering support in the face of mountainous adversity.

"Anyway, I'll be okay. I have to be," Molly declared, the thought of her son's well-being and happiness leaving all else paling in comparison. She mentally thanked her stars that the tears pooling at the corners of her eyes remained where they were instead of spilling over. Sniffing quietly, she picked her bag off the floor to bring it into her lap. "I should probably be on my way, soon."

"Right," Frederick said, and it came out a little too loud, "you're leaving Baltimore. I would wager you cannot wait to see the back of the place."

Molly gave a slight nod. "Like I said before, I'm going to stay at my parents' at least until I get the house sold, and then... we'll see. One step at time, that's how I'm taking things."

Each step taking her further away from Will, from the tragedy and trauma he left in his wake. That was good. But Frederick saw that as her leaving him behind too, moving on while he was still stuck there in that hospital and caged in his practically useless, disfigured body.

It had been years, perhaps decades since he had enjoyed another's company anywhere near as much as he did Molly's. At first Chilton had assumed it was just having any company at all that felt so fulfilling, but he knew now that there was something special about Molly Foster. And he was about to lose her.

"This will be it, then." Chilton gritted his teeth and bit back his dismay, but she saw it in the darks of his eyes regardless.

"Frederick, this – it isn't goodbye."

Did he really think she would just leave like that, after all this time?

"It's not?" he questioned, consciously restraining the vein of optimism rising in his chest from seeping into his voice.

"I'll see you, uh... Tuesday?"

Chilton had regained the ability furrow his brows, and he exercised it then. "But I thought...?"

"You're not getting rid of me that easily," she smiled. "I'll be coming in this direction regularly to meet with realtors and the like, so of course I'll stop by –"

"There is no – I mean, you don't have to do that, you come out of your way –"

"You're right, actually. I don't have to but... I want to."

Molly enjoyed her visits to the hospital, valued them just as much as Frederick did, even though he hadn't accepted or even realised that. There was something about his company that was precious, that gave her hope. Seeing how bravely he approached each day, each obstacle, bolstered her own optimism during the rare times when it threatened to falter.

Out of nowhere, the thought of losing the nameless bond that they shared brought a tightness to Molly's chest, a hollow ache. Tears returned to gather behind her eyelids and this time they made a point of showing themselves, trails racing down either side of her face. "Unless you don't want me –"

"No, I do!" Chilton protested, his voice urgent and deviating from his usually low and flat cadence.

"Good." Because God, she had lost enough.

Frederick lifted his right hand and held it a few inches above where Molly's own rested on her knee, hovering in a show of hesitance and respect for her boundaries. 

"May I?" he asked quietly, pulse quickening under doubt but also in anticipation. Just in case she might — quite reasonably, he thought — have despised the idea of being touched directly by his heavily scarred form.

But Molly just nodded, swallowing back a sob. "Yeah, um... yeah."

And so Frederick laid his palm down gently and took a loose hold of her fingers in a comforting gesture. The first thing that he noticed was that they were warm to the touch where his were cooler — and soft where his were rougher, all broken skin and twisting, raised scabs.

He could have sworn that his cold, old heart skipped a beat when Molly covered their joined hands with her other and held onto him for dear life.

Chapter Text

"Molly? I wasn't expecting you."

Frederick was sat in his wheelchair by the window with his attention having been buried in a book before it was caught by Molly's sudden arrival. He noted that she didn't sit down beside him, meaning that she didn't plan to stay long and so he just closed his book on his fingers, mindful of not losing his place.

"I came to ask you something, I thought it better done in person, even though I'm in a rush."

"I have something to tell you too, big news," he divulged, and she nodded in a way that urged him to go on, eyes wide and curious. "They are discharging me, well — allowing me to transition into outpatient care."

"Right in time for Christmas."

"I suppose so." Not that he had ever really celebrated the event since he left home as a teenager. Christmas dinner for Frederick Chilton usually featured little more than a bottle of wine, and as for gifts there was only ever whatever overly expensive and fundamentally useless gift he had bought for himself.

"The doctors actually mentioned it to me when I left the other day," said Molly, before breaking out into a knowing grin. "And that leads perfectly into the reason I'm here. I wanted to invite you over for Christmas dinner."

It was as a reflex that Frederick opened his mouth to protest but Molly continued before he could get anything out.

"My parents have had a Mediterranean cruise booked for months, and to be honest I think a break will do them good. So it'll just be Wally and I, nothing big, and we'd like you to join us."

"You – you don't have to do that. I wouldn't want to impose, there's really no such need –"

"I promise you I feel no obligation." She answered the question he hadn't even asked aloud. "You should know by now that enjoy your company, Frederick. Honestly. But I respect your choice, I won't force the matter if you don't feel comfortable joining us."

"Thank you for the offer, truly, but I think a quiet Christmas in is the most I can manage right now," he said diplomatically.

"I'd be happy to drive you there and back, but... it's up to you."

Frederick's mouth twisted into an awkward grimace.

"I guess I'll see you after Christmas, then. Call me when you get home so I know you're okay, alright?"

Molly smiled, but wore the disappointment that she couldn't manage to disguise effectively. 

She was halfway out the door when he called out "Molly, wait. I suppose... I could come."

"You will?"

"It would be my pleasure."

There was one slight issue, though, that only occurred to Frederick when he arrived at the doorstep of Molly's parents' house, having paid the extortionate fare for a taxi ride all the way out there. He wasn't good with children, or with dogs, and he feared that the unfortunate condition of his countenance would frighten either — or knowing his luck, both.

So there he stood, riddled with doubt and anxiety. But when she opened the front door, Molly's eyes lit up visibly in delight and she smiled at him so warmly that Chilton struggled to remember when he had last been directed such unselfish kindness. He saw a true friend in her now, and reasoned that her presence in his life had to be some form of cosmic reward, perhaps even compensation for the horrors he had been unfairly subjected to. Because in those moments, Frederick even forgot the woes that weighed on his shoulders like an otherwise permanent feature, and actually allowed himself to feel welcome.

The pack of dogs spilled out of the house and onto the porch where they swarmed around his feet, all various sizes and shapes but sharing the same curious expressions and wagging tails. Frederick reached one hand down in a halfhearted attempt to pet some of their heads.

"Come inside, don't worry about them. They'll have a sniff and be bored of you soon enough."

So he did.

"What's that?" Molly asked once everyone had been herded into the house, eyes landing on the dish that Chilton held in both hands, covered with tinfoil.

"I baked an apple pie."

"Did I... did I mention that –"

"That apple pie is your favourite?" he interrupted, and she nodded in agreement. "You might have done."

"But I didn't know that you baked!"

"Apparently I am full of surprises."

"Aren't you just. Follow me into the kitchen, let's leave it there." She led the way and gestured for him to place the pie dish down, before sneaking a peek under the tinfoil. "Thank you so much, it looks delicious."

"Vegan pastry is quite the challenge, so I hope it doesn't disappoint. How is the food coming along?"

It seemed.... chaotic in there. Almost every last inch of the kitchen counters were covered in ingredients or pots and pans and other cooking paraphernalia. "I'm eagerly awaiting whatever it is you have cooking."

"That might be a while still, I'm not the most organised but I could use an extra pair of hands, if — Wally!"

Frederick followed Molly's gaze, and then her footsteps to the back door that her son was stepping through.

"Done building your snowman?" she asked and he just nodded, shaking the snow off his boots. "This is Frederick, remember I mentioned he would be coming over? Say hello, hun."

"Hello, Walter is it? It's nice to meet you."

Molly gave her son a little nudge to the shoulder.

"Hi. It's Wally, actually."

"Wally it is. I'm Frederick," he said with an arm outstretched and hand offered for a handshake.

Wally lifted his own gloved hand and gave him one, and Frederick noted that the boy was good at not staring — or not seeming as though he was, whereas most people he encountered in the outside, adults, were much less inconspicuous in the way they looked at him.

"Go and get your coat and everything off," Molly told him, and he jogged off down the hallway.

Then with an audible gasp, she darted over to the stove and grabbed a wooden spoon to animatedly stir the contents of a steaming pan with.

"I didn't have you pegged for a big chef," said Frederick as the footsteps grew quieter and quieter.

She gasped in feigned shock, a hand covering her mouth. "What is that supposed to mean? Alright, I'm not a pro, as you can see, but..."

"I'm sure it will be leaps and bounds better than the hospital food I have grown so very used to."

"You've got a nut roast to look forward too, if I don't screw it up."

Suddenly feeling guilty that Molly had been made to cook something extra to suit his dietary requirements, Frederick reached for the apron that he saw draped over one of the chairs at the breakfast table. "Put me to work then, I'll help however I can."

"Ugh," she exhaled, "my hero."

* * * * *

Dinner was... different. Different good. Delicious and homely and so very serene. It no doubt felt odd to walk in Will Graham's shoes, to be sat exactly where he might well have been a year ago, but Frederick found that domesticity suited him. It was no struggle to understand what the notoriously solitary Will Graham had seen in her; she was much like him in her quiet empathy and gentle compassion. Him before the catastrophic hurricane that was Hannibal Lecter swept through his life.

After dinner they settled in the living room, in front of one those run-of-the-mill Christmas-themed family movies that seemed oddly familiar even though Frederick was sure he had never watched it before. Molly stuck it out for just over half an hour later, but then she simply couldn't wait any longer for what she expected to be the highlight of the day.

"I'll go and warm up dessert, how about that?"

With that announcement she was gone.

Taking the opportunity he had been given, Wally stood up from his armchair, grabbed the remote control from the coffee table and turned up the volume of the television.

"Could... could I ask you something?" he asked, taking a half step closer to where Chilton was sat on the couch.

"Um. Of course you can," he replied, albeit a tinge cautiously. "What is it?"

Wally took another step, wavered for a moment and then finally made the decision to take Molly's vacated seat beside their guest.

"You... you worked with my dad, didn't you? With the FBI."

Confusion flashed across Frederick's features, until he realised that the boy was talking about Will. The knowledge that Wally had called his stepfather of only a year or so 'dad' made his stomach twist in discomfort.

"Yes, I worked with him... in a sense."

"Was he... really like they've been saying? Mom doesn't know that I've heard about the rumours, but..."

Frederick seriously wondered what this child needed to hear, this young and wide-eyed child who had likely seen more of the very best side of Will Graham than anybody else. Wally needed consoling, but Frederick also thought that through all of this mess and confusion, Wally deserved to know the truth. So he tried to pitch his answer somewhere in between.

"Will always..." he heaved in a deep breath only to let it out in a slow sigh with his eyes closed. When he opened them again, Wally was peering at him in anticipation. "He tried his best. That I know for sure."

It wasn't very much that he had to offer, but a flicker of consolation sparked in the boy's eyes nonetheless.

"Thank you. He did... what I asked him, too."

"What you asked him?"

Wally bowed his head and mumbled "To kill the man that hurt my mom."

He had been talking about Dolarhyde, of course, but in the silence that followed Frederick quickly realised that the boy's words rang just as true for Will Graham himself. The man that hurt his mom

"You're both safe now, Wally."

"Right, who's ready for pie?" Molly strode into the room, coming to a halt when she saw that Frederick jolted a little at her sudden entrance, and that Wally had changed seats.

"Everything okay?"

"Yeah," Wally assured — perhaps too quickly, as was the way that he stood up.

"I can't wait to dig in, so come and get a slice too."

They did, and through what was only her second mouthful, Molly insisted that it was the best apple pie she had ever tasted. And she adored apple pie.

* * * * *

Frederick was sat in one of the armchairs front of the fireplace when Molly found him, sipping on the drink that she had left him with, his unfocused gaze watching the flames dance: flicker, twist and wither away.

"Is everything alright?" he asked, glancing up at her.

"Yeah, yeah. So much for tucking him in, he was actually already asleep, probably tired out from everything."

"Oh, good."

"Thank you for coming tonight, Frederick."

"Thank you for dinner, and for having me." This day had meant more to him than he dared to verbalise.

Molly lingered in the doorway, beside the liquor cabinet. "A final nightcap? Then we can set you up in the guest room."

"Still working on this one –" he lifted up his glass to show her "– but I will take a small top up."

Once she had poured Frederick out some more whiskey, Molly added a generous glug of Bailey's into the hot chocolate that had been waiting for her on the coffee table. She picked it up but she still didn't sit down. He furrowed his brows up at her, not understanding why.

"You're not too cold, are you?" she asked, lifting up a folded blanket from the other couch.

"No, I'm quite warm, thanks." 

"In that case... do you maybe want to sit outside and watch the stars?"

"You're a stargazer?"

"Not... officially, but there's practically no light pollution all the way out here and the view is always stunning."

Stunning it most definitely was.

As they sat on edge of the porch, their sides brushing but only barely, the stars that glimmered above them took Frederick's breath away, constellations stretching across the inky black canvas of the sky, their brightness rivalled but in no way diminished by the silver crescent that glowed among them.

"You really don't see anything like this in the city."

"No," she agreed, and then took a pause. "Do you ever think of leaving the city?"

"I do. More so now than ever before. Baltimore hasn't exactly been kind to me."

"You could set up the 'unassuming private practice' that you talk about anywhere, couldn't you?"

"I suppose I could," Frederick answered, but his mind was elsewhere.

A fragile silence swept over them; he needed a long few moments and a sizable gulp of his drink for him to summon up the courage to break it.

"...May I ask you something?"

"What is it?"

"I have been trying, believe me... but I simply cannot wrap my head around this." Eyes lowered meekly, he watched the amber liquid swill around the glass in his hand in attempt to settle his nerves. Thankfully it had also loosened his tongue. That night was the first time that Frederick had indulged in many, many months, so it was fair to say that three-odd drams of whiskey affected him far more than they used to before. "What... good do you see in me? In my company? Or... is it only pity?"

"You act as though I'm this perfect, noble person but I have my tough days, days when it feels like there is nothing... pleasant about me." Molly was soft spoken as ever but there was a bold vein of assertion in her voice. "I think you fail to realise quite how much you've done for me."

"I haven't done anything for you," he stressed, still staring out at the landscape before them.

"You have, Frederick. You inspire me on those days. Whatever else you might think of yourself and your actions in the past, you are a fighter. You're exactly the presence I've needed in my life through these last months. What happened to you was... horrifying, and you — you never gave up. You never even considered it."

If Chilton's cheeks could still have turned bright red with a blush, they would have then. He kept his gaze buried at the bottom of his glass.

"One might say that it is spite that has fueled me in my recovery. Wanting to have the last laugh."

The kind of smile that was something between a grimace and an actual smile took shape on Molly's lips, not that Frederick saw it.

"You have had the last laugh. And – I don't know, I just... I admire the way that you are so unapologetically yourself."

Hearing those words was like a blunt blow to the chest, it knocked the breath right out of Frederick's lungs. Mouth agape, he finally tipped his head up again and turned to face her. "Do you really believe that?"

"Yes. I do."

He did the last thing she would have expected then — burst into raucous laughter, shaking his head from side to side in total disbelief.

"What?" she asked, gawking because he was literally snorting by that point, a real belly laugh unlike anything she'd ever seen from Chilton before.

"No one has ever said that to me." He took a few deep breaths to calm himself, features turning severe again in a matter of moments. "Much the opposite: I haven't been happy as who I am for a very long time. When I was first admitted to hospital, this time, an old acquaintance said it right to my face: 'you never were comfortable in your own skin'."

Truer words might never have been spoken. He never had been comfortable in his own skin until there wasn't very much of it left, he had always held people away from him and it hadn't made himself stronger, only weaker because he did it out of fear. Fear might once have ruled Frederick's life, but what more did he have to be afraid of now? 

With that in mind, he had grown back a version of himself that was more genuine, more modest and upfront. Molly had seen and appreciated that, perhaps for the contrast it struck with whom she had just lost. Will had always been so complex, smoke and mirrors, a code that she never quite cracked. A question with no right answer.

But Frederick? He had laid himself bare to her. He was an open book, pages offered to be turned as she dared, and they had come to share a robust kind of bond that only arises when two souls have trudged through life's lowest points side by side.

"Whatever you were, I see you as who you are. We've all fucked things up. It's what we take from it that counts."

Cradling the mug in her hands to make the most of its warmth, she raised it to her lips to take a sip.

"What we take?" Frederick echoed. "I, for one, am burdened with baggage."

"Oh, I have a freight train's worth too. But it's..." Molly trailed off, unsure how to phrase the confession she held within herself.

"What?"

"It's you who has shown me that baggage doesn't have to define the rest of my life. You drive it all away, somehow."

With the weight of the much pondered words finally off her chest, she breathed out a shaky sigh and allowed her stiff posture to relax, her shoulders to slouch. The chill in the air hadn't made her shiver until it did then, and even though she had a blanket draped around her shoulders already Frederick didn't hesitate in extending his own blanket to her lap as well. She felt compelled to turn towards him as he leaned in; their gazes locked. 

And they just looked at each other, what little they could see in the dark. Their breath mingled, wisps of condensation swirling around each other and floating upwards, caught by the wind. His pulse quickened, hope tingled in her chest. A cloud of anticipation manifested in the air above and around them, and it lingered...

Until Frederick willed himself to tear his gaze away. And if it had in fact darted down to Molly's lips before he turned, he pushed that knowledge to the back of his mind. Romance had never been something he had dared to pursue as a fit and healthy man, so he held no delusions about it having any place in his life now.

For her part, in the past few weeks especially, Molly had been thinking about the bare-bones of her existence, the big things, what really held value. What she would carry with her when she finally emerged from this purgatory to start over again, to begin yet another new life with the same old hopes that it would be different this time. There was so much still unknown, so much left to be played and figured out in her head. She knew one thing with real conviction, though: he mattered.

Balling her hands into fists as an outlet for the unrest within her, Molly traced the silhouette of trees on the horizon with her gaze.

"I know it's only been a matter of months, but you've come to be a really important part of my life, an — irreplaceable one. I can't say where our paths are headed now, but I only hope it's something we can discover... together."

Frederick struggled briefly in trying to understand the far-reaching implications of her statement. It carried an incredible intimacy, one that was utterly foreign to him, so very accustomed to his solitude — or independence, as he used to so proudly refer to it. He couldn't recall his heart ever having somersaulted as it did then, and just like that it became crystal clear what had been missing for all those years.

"Molly... I d– I don't know what to say."

In a loaded gesture, she tilted her head sideways to rest it on Frederick's shoulder as they both peered up at the stars again. "Then just sit here with me. That's all I'll ever ask of you."

"That I can do," he replied, his voice then dropping to such a faint murmur that the next words that emerged from his lips were almost carried away by the breeze in their entirety. "I promise."

Molly's eyes pricked with tears of relief and she felt as if her heart might leap from her chest unannounced. The future was a blank slate and she was content for it to bring with it whatever it would, whatever new adventures that might come to be written in their destinies.

Who knew?

Who knew what the two of them might have found if the presumed dead had stayed dead?

Chapter Text

"I can't believe it. They found him. After all this time."

"After all this time," Frederick parroted bleakly, and he spread his arms wide to pull Molly into a brief, gentle hug. "Come in."

Two trails of tears were in the process of drying on her face, but the corners of her lips upturned when she was greeted by the unmistakable scent of Frederick's perfect apple pie.

"You made pie?"

"It's still in the oven, but yes."

He had known for a couple of hours that she was coming over and had been feeling... antsy. He didn't think very much of his ability to console her with his words — and maybe it was silly, but he thought that Molly's favourite pie might do the trick. Unfortunately Frederick had botched the timings a little, but maybe a bit of time to talk properly first would do her good.

"Jack called," she told him, taking a seat beside where he had just sat down on the couch.

"What did he say? Anything about..."

"There was no sign of Will at all."

Frederick nodded, that information hardly coming as a surprise. "Only Lecter."

"Only him."

The property where Hannibal had been found wasn't in his name, but owned by one of his former patients. In a rare show of competent detective work the FBI had discerned that the patient had been committed and the house abandoned — and so decided to check it out, to their avail.

They discovered evidence that two people had been inhabiting the place, and Lecter's severe injuries mostly healed by the time that he was located. The mysterious acquaintance who had been nursing him back to health had somehow got away when the FBI arrived, flew into the wind leaving them with only a very vague description of her.

"I'm so sorry. They got your hopes up again, and..."

"He isn't coming back," she stressed. "I'm only more sure now than before."

"You're fully justified in thinking that —"

"He's gone. As for Hannibal..." The topic of Lecter was unchartered territory between them, even more so than Will, and yet Molly dove straight into the deep end. "Frederick, I... I'm toying with the idea of going to see him."

Chilton blanched. A fierce urge to protect his friend shot through him, as much as he knew the boundless courage in Molly's heart. As much as he physically could, he wanted to guard her from the horrible, grotesque world that Hannibal Lecter lived in.

"But he... he..." Fuck, his chest was getting tighter and tighter, a sharp pain seizing it. "Why would you do that?" Frederick might have just asked a question but he refused Molly the opportunity to answer it. "You cannot trust a single word out of Hannibal's mouth."

"But I need to understand. To understand it all even just a little bit more."

Hannibal Lecter was an enigma to her, and he had turned her Will into much the same.  Will had claimed that he went back out in the field because he couldn't cope with the prospect of the Tooth Fairy attacking a family like their own — but then he had placed his family right in the line of fire himself. In the long run his intentions and actions just didn't reconcile; they felt something akin to setting fire to a home because you loved it so much.

While waiting for her husband to return, Molly had felt more alone than in a very long time. She'd thought that Dolarhyde had found her that way, alone and confused, but all of Frederick's assertions held truth: Will left her that way. She didn't mean that he should have been there protecting her like some antiquated man of the house, but he hadn't equipped her to deal with the can of worms he had chosen to open. He hadn't treated her as his partner, his equal.

And it was no stretch to infer that it was Lecter's influence that had caused her husband to veer from his previously noble path. Did Lecter know Will's true self? Because how was Molly ever to have understood him when she had never been allowed his full, true self in the first place? Everything that they had built together rested on a foundation of lies of omission. 

"Molly, what do you possibly hope to gain?" chided Frederick, "It would be moving backward when you should be plowing forward."

He forcefully stuck a pin in the thought that now Molly had someone far more interesting to talk to about Will's past and mental state, she no longer had any use for him. He knew full well that was his insecurities speaking but still couldn't prevent giving them a platform in the halls of his mind.

"I want to feel a hint of whatever it is that he inspires in others, for my own understanding."

Molly wanted to be subjected to Lecter's manipulative nature, to feel his influence so that she might forgive Will for falling prey to the same. To make herself certain that he had in fact fallen prey, rather than made a fully conscious decision to adopt Hannibal's ways and wiles.

Frederick appreciated her honesty —  he wasn't one for subtlety or nuance, beating around the bush. But needless to say, the motive that she confessed irritated him.

"Hannibal Lecter isn't only dangerous because he kills. He drove his patients to kill and more widely applies his finely honed skills of manipulation to everyone he meets, he pecks his way into your head and twists what you know to be the truth for his own amusement..."

"What... did he do to you?" Molly was cautious after the roadblock of a reaction she had received from Chilton when his (unsavory) past with Hannibal, Will and the FBI first came up, but she held faith that they had established a solid rapport now, one of two-sided honesty and respect.

If it would persuade her against going to visit Lecter, he was willing to tell Molly whatever she asked.

"He manipulated every last one of us, and I'm not proud of the things I did under his influence, but I accept my misdeeds." Adopting psychic driving techniques under Hannibal's behest being the greatest of those. But even then, Frederick had only thought that he was extracting information from Gideon that he had repressed, not fabricating it. 

It was imprudent, yes, but if he was honest with himself, he had always felt like an imposter, always overcompensated with expensive suits and fine wine and unorthodox therapies. He had been so eager for Hannibal's approval — equally eager to show him up — and look what that had led him to. 

"But there is one thing I will say," he went on. "I never became what the others did, I never stooped that low."

Whatever he was, Chilton was not a highly dangerous, violent kind of person. Not in the way that the others were, and they all deserved to have heavier consciences than he did. Lecter and Dolarhyde most obviously, but also Graham, Crawford and even Alana Bloom. Frederick hadn't ever deliberately thrown a relative innocent in harm's way, which was more than could be said for them. They did that to him without so much as a second thought.

Not that Molly had first-hand experience of any of their vicious behaviour herself — apart from Dolarhyde, of course. Frederick understood that to her they were only names, thrown around as if their agency wasn't something concrete, something truly threatening. He needed to get through to her.

"They did this to me." He neglected to mention Will's name outright, but it should have been obvious that he was included in that 'they'. "Errors of judgement are my greatest mistakes. But I still don't know what there is in my past that justifies this."

Perhaps with his shortcomings, Chilton hadn't deserved to be a big player in their game of cat-and-mouse, perhaps he had aimed too high, out of his own reach.

But what exactly were his sins, his unforgivable transgressions? Writing a book to work through the horrors that had already been inflicted upon him, and hoping gain some minor kind of material compensation? Brazenness? Foolishness? Were they such crimes?

"I have never displayed violence towards anyone or caused such irreparable harm intentionally, which is more than can be said for any of them."

Frederick felt as though he had grown, he had changed a little with each successive life-threatening injury. Not that anyone saw that, not that they had even bothered to look. There was a time that he had genuinely empathised with Will in a heartfelt manner, a time that he had felt a true kinship with him — and what had he received in return?

"Hannibal hated me because I was too vulgar for his taste. Although I was never worth the effort it would have taken for him to kill me himself, no, he liked to play with my fate as if it were a toy. He orchestrated Dolarhyde's attack on myself by baiting him... through Will, while Jack and Alana stood by. Somewhere along the way all of their lines blurred."

As Molly listened to those embittered words, a sick feeling made itself at home right in the pit in her stomach. She couldn't bring herself to reply, and at the same time couldn't fully abate her curiosity.

"He isn't worth trying to understand. Believe me, I know."

It wasn't immediately clear whether Frederick was referring to Hannibal or Will, but in his mind he meant them both.

Despite having long given up that quest himself, he still couldn't shake them off. He was sentenced to be subjected to the torture of reliving his suffering over and over again. Night after night, day after day, with no prior warning his mind would travel back to the horrors he had lived, back to the excruciating pain and the ache of utter loneliness that had it brought with it.

"Just... think about it, alright?" he pleaded with her. "Think about who... really matters, and if he is worth sacrificing your peace of mind."

* * * * *

Three days later they were sat in Chilton's living room again, this time on either side of the coffee table rather than beside each other.

"How was it?" he asked with a grimace, dreading the answer.

"I didn't go to meet him."

"You didn't go?"

"Are you happy?"

"Honestly, yes."

With that, he noted that smiling was getting easier. Of late he had been feeling more and more sensations in his lips. They had first begun to prickle, and even twitch upon his attempts — the nerve endings were connecting well. 

"Frederick, I'm done, I can't..." she heaved in a lungful of air and continued — "I keep thinking about him and I just want to leave this place, for good. This city is filled to the brim with tragedy, corpses and mistakes and –"

"I know."

"One of my cousins is moving out of his house up in Washington, near Seattle. I've been there before and it's exactly the kind of place where I can see myself being happy again."

Frederick was silent, in thought. This was where he lost her, wasn't it? The day had to come sooner or later.

Molly had very different ideas. "You said you want to leave too — you could set up shop there."

"Is that really... an invitation to join you?"

She nodded, shuffling forward and reaching out to placing a hand over Frederick's, resting on his knee.

"I want you there with me." Their nameless relationship occupied a strange realm, something certainly deeper than a casual friendship but still short of romantic due to their own personal boundaries. Whatever they were, all that mattered to her at the time was that it all felt right. "What do you say? Let's get far, far away from all of this."

Frederick avoided Molly's gaze in no subtle way, eventually resorting to closing his eyes and pressing the heels of his hands into his eyelids as his body curled inwards.

"No?" That single syllable carried all of her hefty disappointment alone. More than anything else, the thought of leaving Frederick entirely by himself at such a fragile time in his life was heart-wrenching.

God, he might have said yes without an ounce of hesitation if she had asked him just a week ago. But Hannibal's persistence had ramifications for him.

"I have been in contact with the acting administrator at the BSHCI, who is moving away, so... the board have presented me with an offer to return."

"Return to your old job? Why would you want to go back to the hospital?"

Molly's stomach lurched at the mere thought of it. So when Chilton neglected to give her an answer, she sought one for herself.

"It's because of him, isn't it?"

"Regaining my former position and becoming Lecter's keeper is my only way of settling the score between us. What else do I have?" he asked with a shrug and Molly wanted to shout, she wanted to scream that he had her, that he had this, but the audacity escaped her and he went on. "I can't walk away from this fight with... with absolutely nothing to show for all the pain that I have endured."

"You can if doing this is going to hurt you more! Placing yourself in his presence willingly? You told me that we should be moving forwards. You told me that Hannibal Lecter was a threat even locked up, that he plays with people's minds and — so, what, that doesn't apply to you now?"

If she seemed angry at Frederick it was because she was, at the unbelievable hypocrisy that now spouted from him. More than that though, she found herself feeling incredibly protective of him, with his best interests foremost in her heart.   

"I'm not invincible," he admitted, "but I would be holding all of the metaphorical cards. And why should I have to permanently lose the position that I spent years toiling to achieve, because of him?"

Frederick almost had a point there, and he knew it just as much as Molly hated it. Besides, Hannibal Lecter would always be at the other end of a string tied securely around his mind, able to tug at it and pull him back down whenever he felt the whim. One letter, one phone call could do it, set his world crashing around him again.

"In returning... the power differential between us will finally, finally be reversed." He could have his revenge, he could degrade Lecter the way that he had only dreamed of for so very long.

"Listen to yourself!" Molly wasn't sure that she could recognise the man before her then because he wasn't the Frederick Chilton she knew, the one who was compassionate and considerate. "So it's an ego thing. You just want to show him that you  can make his life hell? I didn't expect you to be so petty."

She had no idea how petty he could be, Frederick thought, she had no idea who he used to be.

"You should be the bigger man, Frederick."

"The bigger man?" It was much easier for her to propose that from her high horse than for him to follow through with it. "He ruined my life and he should pay for it. That's that. I could not give a rat's ass about being the bigger man."

"So you'll sink to his level."  

"He made this a dirty game, they all did, not I."

"That doesn't mean you have to do this. You have a choice," she maintained.

Frederick smiled sadly, eyes glazing over as he lost himself in a regretful train of thought. He worried that he had already made all of the choices that really mattered a long time ago, as had Will and Hannibal.

Overwhelmed by the path their conversation had taken, Molly felt a rush of mixed emotion overcome her and suddenly experienced a burning need to leave, for fear of hearing more shocking statements that she simply couldn't reconcile in her mind.

"Just... think about it, alright?" It was her turn to plead with Frederick now, words perfectly mirroring those he had spoken to her just days before. "Think about who... really matters, and if he is worth sacrificing your peace of mind."

Chapter Text

Although gradually beginning to resemble his former self thanks to skin grafts and cosmetic procedures, Frederick Chilton knew that he was ugly. Grotesque, in more ways than one.

And yet that had seemed not to be an obstacle to this connection he had with Molly Foster. She had seen the best of him, the side that he had always kept guarded under lock and key, often even from himself. By most standards, they were chalk and cheese. But they shared a universal truth that had woven itself into the very fibres of their beings. It brought them together, if only for a short time.

There was... something between them. The hint of possibility, most certainly tangible. A stretch away but most certainly within reach if only they just reached out to grab it with both hands.

It was hope that brought Molly to the park that night, under a murky sky of foreboding clouds, every last star hidden from view with no proof of their existence whatsoever. She was later than expected, time having run away from her as she prepared to leave the city for good.

Frederick's decision was already made, although if he was entirely honest with himself, it wasn't exactly... concrete. Molly had a funny way of changing everything he perceived to be true. The forty minutes of ruminations as he waited for her were no help, he swung back and forth, wrestling with his thoughts. He was leaning one way, but absolute certainty escaped him.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry I'm so late." Molly was already out of breath as she ran up to Frederick, hesitating a moment before sitting down beside him on the bench. "Wrapping things up around here took a little longer than I expected. Thanks for waiting."

"Of course."

"I know this has all happened so quickly... but you — you don't need to hurry. Take whatever the time you need, if it's time you need, I — I'll be waiting."

Frederick's body stiffened at that remark and the insinuation that he was planning to follow Molly to Seattle hung heavy in the air. He saw it in her eyes then, a glimmer of belief, the gentle conviction that he was capable of putting the past behind him. A hope that he didn't deserve.

Because he didn't want to put what they did to him behind him. In his eyes that meant giving up, and giving up meant losing. He hadn't given up after Gideon. He hadn't given up after Lass. He wasn't going to give up, he had overcome too much to lose now. Frederick Chilton was resilient if nothing else — or obstinate, depending on how one saw it. Perhaps he was choosing to wallow in the fate that had been dealt to him but victims weren't always reparative in their actions. He had learned the hard way that victimhood wasn't always resignation, it wasn't always forgiveness and softness and 'Oh, I'm better for it'.

He wasn't better for it. 

Hannibal Lecter had ruined him mentally just as much as physically, had left him hideous through and through. Frederick's outward appearance may have told him that he was unlovable every single time he looked in the mirror, and yet... that wasn't the real problem at all. It was the ugliness inside that proved a far stronger beast for him to contend with — Hannibal's reemergence had dug out the very worst of him, had brought the darkest, charred areas of his heart to the surface from where they had been buried within.

And Molly — kind, strong, compassionate Molly — was offering him time, as if the simple passage of weeks or months might reverse the destruction of his benevolence, reverse the battering of his soul and all the mind-numbing pain.

Couldn't she see? She was the only thing that had even come close.

"It's not time that I need."

Frederick was alerted to the fact that he had vocalised that thought when he saw the timid smile melt away from Molly's face and worry lines etch into her forehead. "Then what? What can I do?" 

"Just start afresh, as you deserve."

He lowered his gaze to avoid hers and that was the moment she knew. It was a losing battle.

As Molly sighed with her whole body, Frederick could almost hear the sound of her hopes shattering into a million pieces and being swept away by the wind.

Still, she gathered the determination to make one final play. "You deserve it too. I see the best in you."

"I know." The uncertain half-smile that formed on Chilton's lips didn't reach his eyes. "I know you do."

Molly wasn't trying to be his savior; she had made that mistake before. When she looked at him she saw someone who had been her rock through the most difficult months of her existence and she valued him so much that it incited a powerful need to keep him in her life. What they shared was simple and it was good, despite the myriad other complications that the courses of their lives had presented them with.

As her chest tightened in inexpressible frustration, Molly lamented inwardly that she had yet again found herself competing with Hannibal Lecter, the same legend of a man that she had never even met in person. It was unfamiliar sentiment that wrapped itself around her heart; she had never hated anyone the way she now hated him.

"I wish he had died," she gritted out with a snarl curling her lips, an expression Frederick had never seen on her face in all the months he had known her. "Because he still has you on his line. Hook, line and..."

Sinker. It was true. 

"In a way, I wish the same." It was a feeble offering, but an offering nonetheless.

"Only in a way?"

"It would have allowed me the opportunity for a clean break, yes. But he doesn't deserve a quick and painless death. What he deserves is to suffer." 

"In taking the responsibility of this retribution upon yourself you're risking ruining your own life too."

"What do I have left to ruin?"

It was challenging, if not impossible, for Frederick to see himself as redeemable. But when he looked at Molly he saw a solid chance for her to rebuild her life away from there, a chance for her to be good and rid of the demons that she had inherited from Will. She had worked so hard to bounce back and he wanted her happiness even more than he wanted his revenge on Lecter. 

"You know..." she began, before interrupting herself with a low, strangled sound. Neither dared to look at the other; they both stared out across the lawn with only their elbows and coat sleeves brushing. "You know that I have to go."

Molly had been presented with the perfect opportunity for a new beginning and she was unwaveringly committed to making the very most of it, first and foremost for Walter but also for herself.

"I know," Frederick assured her. "I understand. You don't have anything tying you here, so..."

"I do." Her voice quivered and she swallowed down the throttling emotion that rose in her throat. "But I have to put myself first."

"As do I."

That wasn't strictly true, because Frederick's decision to stay in Baltimore wasn't based only on his desire to exact due revenge on Hannibal Lecter. In many ways, that would have been far, far simpler. 

See, he had this... inkling, a stubborn kernel of doubt lodged into his mind that had been compounded by that nature of his most recent nightmares. He had come to believe that for Molly, he would have always remained a permanent reminder of the horrors of 'their world' — the world he inhabited with the likes of Jack Crawford, Hannibal Lecter and Will’s ghost. A world that an objectively goodhearted person like her deserved to break free from.

Some part of him was clearly addicted to the toxicity. The thought of himself being worthy or capable of escaping that world perhaps never really crossed Chilton's mind; it just wasn't feasible. He would forever obsess over his condition and his fury towards the people who made it so.

And so he saw himself as irredeemable, as dead weight that he felt compelled to cut away from the first person to show him real love in longer than he could dare to remember. Pushing her away was easier than telling her that he was rotting inside, and much safer than showing her how. All of Molly's light, as radiant as she was, couldn't drive away the shadows that festered inside Frederick's mind, couldn't drown out the booming echo of Lecter's voice that rung resolutely through its walls. His inner ugliness prevailed. 

"You must be in a hurry..."

"My flight leaves in less than three hours, I really botched my timings. Wally's actually waiting in the car."

"Don't miss your flight on my account."

"No, its..." Molly checked her watch and grimaced. "...ah, shit."

"Go, you go."

"I can spare a few minutes... Last chance to come with me?" Molly might have been joking but there was still a silent prayer in her mind as she turned to catch his gaze. Maybe.

Meanwhile Frederick couldn't muster the strength for a real answer; he only managed a reflection of her teary, forced smile. 

"I really hope you find your peace somehow," she whispered. "And happiness, however it comes."

Peace? Happiness?

No. Living a life of joy was something that Frederick thought to be practically impossible at this juncture of his life — so why not be fuelled by the distilled spite that brewed inside of him? Why not ruin the life of the man who ruined his? Playing things the way he always had hadn't got him anywhere. It was time to adopt a new strategy, to level the playing field. If that meant sinking to Hannibal's level, then sink he would. 

"Do you remember... what I once said to you?" Frederick asked. "That there are some people who just aren't meant for a happy, domestic life." Her happiness had to be enough for him.

The fact that he had meant that declaration about Will, originally, but now applied those exact words to himself, wasn't lost on Molly. She wasn't in a position to appreciate the irony. Frederick could only watch on as any remnants of the hope that had once lit up her eyes fizzled out completely.

"I wish you all the best," he said with a sincerity that couldn't be faked. With an uncomfortable formalness, too. 

"I... fuck." Molly was more blunt, direct in her words. "I'll miss you all the goddamn time."

"Don't be so dramatic," he chided half-heartedly. Candid displays of emotion were far more than Frederick could handle at this point in time.

But Molly didn't budge. "I will," she asserted. "What, you won't miss me?"

He took a few moments to let a crashing wave of premature longing pass over him, then murmured into the darkness. "Every single day."

At that, Molly turned and buried her head against Frederick's shoulder, suddenly fighting to catch her breath. She wanted to explain to him, to drill it into his head that he had been so much for her and that she loved him for it. But she was hurt, and she internalised. Did what she had to do instead of what she wanted. She breathed him in, same old ridiculously expensive aftershave and all, and breathed him out. Tried to purge him from her heart. Failed miserably.

There was no right thing to say as they rose to their feet and inched towards their separate ways. So they said nothing more, and their paths finally diverged.

With each step that took her away from him Molly tried to convince herself that this was how things had to be, repeating the affirmation over and over in her head. She told herself that sometimes you meet the right person at the right time and they fulfill a certain something in your life. You fulfill something in theirs, but that doesn't mean that it's forever. Maybe it had always had a time limit, maybe there had been a clock hanging over their heads and counting down to zero from the very first time that they met.

All that Molly could do now was wish that she had grown used to letting go. Her streak of optimism would expire someday, perhaps. Sooner rather than later, she now hoped, because it seemed to have a tendency to get her tangled up in situations like this one.

Frederick's footsteps faltered and slowed as he entertained the thought of turning back to her. Except that wouldn't be turning back, would it? Why did it feel as though in choosing to stay in Baltimore he had already turned his back on a promising future in favour of remaining stuck in his wretched past?

Words left unsaid burned a new hole into the remains of his heart, sealing its tragic fate for good. It was burdened with a confession that had never reached his lips, the god-honest truth that Molly had given him a whole new lease on life. And although he wasn't going down the path she would have wished for him, he certainly felt alive again. He had her to thank for that.

He stopped then, held his breath and turned back around. One step led to a second, and a smaller third.

For all of his show of unfeeling detachment, of course their almost love hurt, of course it stung deep inside of him. Knowing that they could have been something under different circumstances... A hollow ache of what-ifs and should-haves burrowed its way into Frederick's chest, nestling between the countless faded sparks of dreams that had never — and would never — be realised.

When he missed the precious sound of Molly's laughter, or being looked at with such unbridled endearment, Frederick would convince himself that it was better for her to not have to bear the weight of his baggage on top of her own. And perhaps for him, to not have her as a distraction. He could assign his undivided focus to the one supreme goal of the rest of his pathetic, desolate life:

Ruining Hannibal Lecter's. His culprit, his nemesis, and now finally his prisoner. After all, there was nothing misery loved more than company.

But a certain proclamation that Hannibal had so very smugly made to him, one that Frederick would never forget, rang unwelcome in his ears as he watched his last chance at happiness disappear into the horizon. Lecter's voice was jeering, insidious, and the only company he had now.

"Fate has a habit of not letting us choose our own endings."

...

This didn't feel like a choice.