Hannibal is out shopping when the small boy runs up to him and bites him on the hand.
It is not a playful act. The child bites hard, and then he grinds his teeth in and holds on.
There is for Hannibal a moment of outrage, in which he considers striking the child to knock him away. Hannibal’s face curls, for just a microsecond, into a snarl, and astonishingly he realizes that the boy, who is looking up at him with fearsome defiance, his jaws still locked around the side of his hand, has not missed this.
Hannibal’s eyes burn, but not from the pain; never before has a child reminded him so forcefully of Mischa.
Hannibal sets his face to communicate a shocked but stoic response to the assault, and this is what his father sees, when perhaps three seconds later he crouches next to the boy to coax him into loosening his hold.
He is intent in his purpose, this strange child, and his jaws must be pried away from Hannibal’s flesh, which his father does urgently but with great gentleness.
There’s blood around the boy’s mouth and on his lips, and the man takes a handful of kleenex from his pocket and works at wiping his face clean. The father’s hands, Hannibal notes, are shaking.
He is already stammering an apology as he straightens, asking Hannibal please to not call CPS or the police, and as the man pushes the messy tangle of curls out of his eyes Hannibal sees that he has left of thin smear of Hannibal’s own blood across his forehead without realizing it.
Despite these desperate efforts at placating him, the father does not seem especially apologetic. Much of the aggressive defiance that he saw in the boy is mirrored now in the man, as he tries to gage how Hannibal might respond. He had already been interested in the man, but now Hannibal’s curiosity builds.
The boy continues, unabashed, to glare bloody murder up at Hannibal, but his father’s hand is curled around his shoulder and he seems disinclined to charge again - at least for the moment.
Hannibal raises his hand so that he himself and the man can both study the bite. There is a considerable amount of blood.
“Fuck,” the father says, and quickly unwraps the scarf from around his neck to hand it to Hannibal. The scarf is not unclean, but the scent of dogs and motor oil and an especially unfortunate aftershave is ground into it.
“Do you allow the child to select your aftershave for you?” Hannibal asks, and the man looks at him blankly.
The man shakes this off and asks - or rather, nearly demands, “Do you have anything?”
“Anything that he could catch, from…"
“From biting me? You are asking me if I am diseased?”
A different kind of unease comes into the man; an awareness of the effrontery - the astonishing rudeness - of the question. “I don’t want him to get sick,” he says, defensively.
“I’ve had blood work done quite recently,” Hannibal answers. “I assure you, it all came back clear. I can show you the paperwork, if you like.”
Multiple trains of thought are running through Hannibal’s mind. In one, he continues to admire the man’s good looks, as he had been doing when he was ambushed; his initial positive assessment continues to bare out, as Hannibal studies him more closely - he is unpolished, yes, and extremely world weary, but Hannibal believes that he would clean up quite nicely.
There is another corner of his mind in which he gives serious consideration to what this scruffy and ill-mannered stranger might look like, flayed.
“That’s not necessary,” the man says. And then, after an awkward pause, he offers, “I’m Will.”
“Hannibal,” Hannibal says. “You haven’t introduced me to your son.”
“Champ,” Will says. The boy remains silent. He hugs Will’s leg and glares at Hannibal.
Rather late, Will asks, “Are you okay?”
“I think stitches are in order,” Hannibal says dryly, as he wraps the scarf around his hand. “A tetanus shot as well.”
He raises his eyes to Will. “I can hardly drive like this. You’ll give me a ride to the hospital?” It is not really a question; Hannibal has no intention of allowing him to say no.
Will’s reluctance is palpable, but he says, “Alright. Just to warn you, though - my car is a mess.”
This turns out to hardly be the case; the aging Subaru Outback is somewhat cluttered, but impeccably clean under the scattering of toys and picture books and other odds and ends. Hannibal settles into front passenger seat while Will straps the boy into his booster seat in the back.
A few minutes later, Will parks in the hospital’s emergency room lot. “Here you are,” he says.
“I’d appreciate some company in the waiting room. And, I will need a ride back to my own car when we’re done.”
He can see that Will wants to argue or beg off, but doesn’t quite dare; they are both acutely aware that Hannibal could make a great deal of trouble for him. “You’ve got me over a barrel and you know it, huh?” he asks, and the question is perhaps intended to sound like a joke, but Will’s frustration is evident.
There’s a decent collection of toys and picture books in the waiting room, and when Will suggests that Champ go and look at them he does so obediently, though he casts watchful glances Hannibal’s way periodically. There is, Hannibal notes, something unusual about how the boy holds his right arm.
Will sits down and Hannibal takes the chair beside him. He watches Will in profile as Will watches the boy. “He’s good at entertaining himself,” Will says. “I take him to jobs with me, when I can’t do the work at home. Give him some books or my cellphone to play around on and he’s just as good as you’d please.”
“Where do you work?” Hannibal asks. He already knows the answer to this; there are calluses on Will’s hands, and the scent of motor oil that hangs about him is seasoned with a taste of salt.
“Repair boat engines, mostly,” Will says. “I used to do some consulting work, but not so much anymore.”
Will slouches forward, his fists balled together between his knees. “For the FBI. It was miserable work. I’m better off being shut of it.”
He is educated, Hannibal realizes, despite how he presents himself. That Will is extremely intelligent he has already noted.
“How about you?” Will asks.
“I’m a psychiatrist,” Hannibal says.
He can sense Will closing in himself, and for the first time the bubbling up of real dislike.
“Hm,” he says.
“I am used to encountering hostility in the course of my work, Will,” Hannibal tells him. “I’m feeling some now. Why?”
“I don’t like people poking around in my head. And I like it considerably less when they try to do that to my boy.”
“I suppose,” Hannibal says, “that such a unique child has picked up a number of labels, even as young as he is.”
“Yeah. Well, most of them are bullshit.”
“I’d probably be inclined to agree,” Hannibal says mildly.
“He’s got some problems - he’s troubled,” Will concedes, though Hannibal has made no such assertion. “But he’s doing way better than he used to be. He’s doing fucking amazing, considering -”
“Considering what?” Hannibal asks, mildy.
“That’s none of your damned business, is it?”
“I suppose not,” Hannibal allows. “My apologies.”
“You were following us,” Will says. “Back in the store. Why?”
“To be completely frank,” Hannibal tells him, “I was rather hoping to get your number.”
“Why?” Will demands again, then he meets Hannibal’s eyes and it clicks into place for him. “Oh.”
“Silly of me, I know. I suppose that you’re probably straight, not to mention unavailable.” He supposes no such thing, and there is no ring on Will’s finger.
“No,” Will says. “I mean, it’s not that -”
He runs his fingers through his mess of curls. “Listen - It’s complicated.”
The boy has noted his father’s agitation. He drops his book. Hannibal is neither intimidated nor frightened at his approach, but he watches Champ carefully. When he tries to insert himself between Hannibal and Will, Will catches him under the arms and lifts him into his lap instead.
“We’re alright,” Will says softly. “We’re safe.”
Champ relaxes, but only minutely. He continues to watch Hannibal with a suspicious glare.
Hypervigilance, Hannibal thinks. Aggressive response to perceived threats. It’s all a bit too familiar. The boy has yet to speak in his hearing, and Hannibal wonders if he experiences trauma-related mutism.
Whatever has happened to the boy, it’s evident that it is not Will's doing. Hannibal understands perfectly well that the boy attacked him because he noted that Hannibal was regarding his father, and sense a potential for danger in that consideration. He is obviously fiercely protective of Will, and Hannibal is very curious as to why.
But remaining so intently on guard for so long is draining, and eventually Champ’s scowl is conquered by a yawn, and his head begins to lull against Will’s arm.
He’s asleep by the time the nurse comes to invite Hannibal back into the ER, but jerks awake at the sound of voices. Champ looks around, eyes glassy and very large, and then fixes his gaze on Hannibal as he rises to go.
He feels the boy’s eyes tracking him as he walks away.
Hannibal suspects that they will be gone by the time he’s finished in the ER, but when he comes out Will is still waiting for him, the boy sleeping in the chair next to him, slumped against Will’s side.
Will rouses him and they stand. “Any problems?” Will asks him, and Hannibal notes the anxious twitch that runs across his face.
He gives them both a disarming smile. “Not at all,” Hannibal says, and holds up his bandaged hand.
Hannibal follows them back out to the station wagon. The drive back to the lot where Hannibal’s Bentley is waiting is not long. Will parks beside it and reaches into his pocket.
He holds out a small piece of paper, and curious, Hannibal takes it and unfolds it. Will’s name and a phone number are written there.
“Well,” Hannibal says, making no effort to hide his delight, “then this all hasn’t been for nothing.”
Will is gruff, but Hannibal understands that it is only because he is embarrassed. “Don’t get any ideas,” he says, looking out the windshield rather than at Hannibal beside him. “Just - when you get the bill, call me. I’ll pay you back.”
“I won’t accept any such thing,” Hannibal tells him.
He puts his own card in Will’s hand. When he gets out and walks to his own car, it is with a spring in his step and a curious but pleasant lightness in his chest.