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The Gunmetal Kiss

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Chapter 1:

Present Day, January 1st, 2018

            The bistro was quaint, set flush against a row of other shops much like it. Just outside, the boardwalk led to a pay-to-see set of binoculars bolted into the wood, and the view opened up to the Pacific Ocean whose waves howled and crashed about in the wind. It was quiet in Astoria, Orgeon. The tourist season was long over, making way for the cold and rain that came during the winter. Special Agent Will Graham, Ghost-Agent of the FBI, sat with his back to the wall and his eyes on the two entries into the establishment, doing what he did best:

            Dying.

            “Were you followed?”

            “No,” Abigail promised. Will would credit her one thing –she was discreet. Rather than make a show of attempting to blend in, she’d completely done so by appearing utterly normal and forgettable. Her jacket was a casual denim, her jeans black. Rather than a tacky baseball cap and obvious sunglasses in a dreary coffee shop, she wore her hair in a simple, low bun.

            Her makeup was different, as was the hair color. The bun made it difficult to see, but it seemed as though she’d added some layers and bangs to her new appearance, too. In any other setting, it would be somewhat heartbreaking to witness; the poor thing completely believed every word that’d come from Will Graham’s mouth. They were going to run away together. He was utterly and hopelessly in love with her.

            “Your father won’t let us be together,” Will murmured. “He almost killed me, Abigail.”

            “He just doesn’t understand. He wouldn’t have really killed you, he just…”

            Will waited for the ‘just’ that couldn’t come when one knew just who they were referring to. When she didn’t continue, he sighed.

            “I don’t care that your father is the second-in-command to Victor Slakov, but we can’t stay here,” he said. “They’ve already put a hit out, not just inside of the mafia but to outside sources, too. When the Shrike wants someone’s head, he gets it. I’ll be dead in hours if we stay.”

            “Jonathan, I…”

            Even with blonde hair rather than brunette, she was still pretty. Her skin was wind-chafed from the ocean breeze, but makeup softened the manipulative and dark edge Will had first witnessed when he’d met her. Her thin lips pressed together tightly, then slackened. She looked away from him, out to the streets where passerby strolled, oblivious to her pains.

            “If you want us to be together, we have to go now,” Will pressed.

            “Where are we going to go?”

            “To the south. We can catch a plane to Europe and lay low there. I have family that will keep us.”

            Europe was a long way from the Pacific North West. Abigail fretted with her coffee, then took a sip and nodded, resolute.

            “I’ll go with you,” she said. “I…I love you, Jonathan. I’d give up my family for you. I mean…he was going to kill you, after all.”

            Will’s smile was all sweetness. “I’ll go to the car first. Wait thirty seconds, then follow me and get in. Make sure you’re not followed.”

            Timing was everything when one had to end a secret identity. While the Glock at the small of his back and the lockpick set in his sock were important pieces to his rather particular skillset, Will Graham’s most important tools were first his empathy, then his ability to completely and utterly disappear. When one had a beautiful but ultimately doomed love interest in their mission, how one left was always far more important than how they arrived.

            “One, two, three…”

            He sat in the driver’s seat of the car and made a show of turning it on. As he counted, he glanced to the side where he could clearly see Abigail finishing her coffee and gathering her things. She hadn’t brought much; just a small overnight bag. Surely she supposed they’d find more suitable clothes in Europe, when he had her stashed away from her mobster father and a list of very bad men.

            “Twelve, thirteen, fourteen…”

            The bomb sat just underneath the passenger side airbag. As he ensured that all of his things were accounted for, Will counted quietly, a habit he’d had for quite some time. Time was his true master, the way the hands turned on the clock. He’d done his job, and time was up. Despite a few complications, things had gone remarkably well. Almost easy, in fact. Planting the mole was as simple as homemade pie, considering the way the last mission had gone.

            “Twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six…”

            She was walking out of the coffee shop now. Her smile when she saw him waiting lit up her entire face, and it was that image that burned into Will’s eyes, even as he reached down and pressed an unremarkable but rather important button.

            The car exploded.

            Will Graham wouldn’t see the horror on her face as the car went up in flames and took some of the aged fencing with it. He wouldn’t see her cry and scream as she called the police and fell to the ground, cradling her phone as she gulped for air. He wouldn’t see paramedics attempt to rescue the man trapped inside, nor would he see the numbness creep across her as the coroner confirmed that dental records assured them that it was indeed Jonathan Yorkman that’d died in the explosion.

            Those things would come later, and by then he’d be likely be halfway across the country, tackling his next assignment.

            Even so, as he trekked through the sewer and counted his steps, Will could confirm that a car bomb was by far the most entertaining way he’d died on a mission. Another time, it’d been a hit and run that’d taken his body with them down an alley. The time before that, it was a plane crash. The sewer entrance just beneath the car had been a bit difficult to close with the flames just overhead, but it’d been worth it. He’d keep it on the list for the next time that another one of his personas had to die.

            Because out of all the things that Will Graham could do, dying was just about one of the easiest of them.

-

Twelve Months Previous: January 1, 2017

            “Plane crash?”

            Agent Jack Crawford, known Director of the BAU for the FBI and classified Director of Ghost Program Q, dropped the files onto the desk where they hit with a thud and stirred up a few dust particles.

            “I was feeling risky,” Will replied, and he watched one of the motes spin about in the air. It was far easier to watch that than watch Jack pace behind his desk; watching people meant watching their eyes, too, and Will hated that sort of thing when he wasn’t on a job. Eye contact meant seeing too much, piecing together the bits best left unsaid.

            Dust motes were far, far more entertaining.

            “Do you know the PR nightmare this is?”

            Jack had a way of standing when he was livid that gave him all appearances of a linebacker from the 1980’s ads. Will saw it out of the corner of his eye and couldn’t help a smile.

            “You know I don’t watch the news much.”

            “Christ, Will,” Jack growled, “I give you kudos for finishing your job, down to the last second, exactly six months after it’d began, but that’s not really all that important to me, seeing as how people are coming forward to reporters and claiming their loved ones were on that plane!”

            “Like I said: I don’t watch the news much.”

            “The whole point of this program is that it is a ghost program. If people know about it, it’s not entirely effective, is it?”

            “Ghost Agents are only ghosts if no one knows they’re alive,” Will agreed, and he looked away from the dust mote. “Which is why it was important that I died.”

            “On a plane crash! Those don’t really happen all that often in America –let alone anywhere else in the god damn world!”

            “Which is why I paid a visit to a drug house and located a few people that died from overdose. The man in the house said that they’d just toss the bodies, so I found their identification instead and tracked down their families or friends, sending messages from phone, social media, or mail that informed their loved ones that they’d be flying out to attend a conference that weekend.”

            It took Jack a moment to follow Will’s train of thought. His brow furrowed, and he dragged his fingers along a small patch of beard –scraggly. He’d missed a spot shaving, and Bella hadn’t been there to point it out. Will looked back to the dust motes.

            “Rather than let them find out their loved one died of drug use, let them think a terrible crash took them instead. They speak up about their family dying, and-”

            “And my identity dies, shifted out of the limelight since my family couldn’t be found to comment on the loss.”

            Jack’s shoulders relaxed first; then his jaw, then his hands that’d been clenched to fists. “Son-of-a-bitch,” he breathed, and he leaned on the desk and laughed. “Beneath that flannel, you’re one son-of-a-bitch.”

            Will didn’t care to comment on that. He felt Jack’s relief like a heating pad left too long on his back. “I assume you’ve got something else for me?

            “You don’t think I brought you here to kick your ass?”

            “Two birds, one stone,” said Will. “What have you got?”

            Jack wasn’t one to hold on too long now that he had control over the situation. In the Ghost Program Q, there wasn’t much in the way of a chain of command. There was Jack Crawford, then the Ghost Agents, and anyone else was just an obstacle. Jack rolled his shoulders, popped his neck, then retrieved another file from his cabinet, handing this one over rather than tossing it on the desk. It’d be the closest to an apology that Will would ever get.

            “What do you know about movie star Hannibal Lecter?”

            The photos were high quality. Will flipped through photo upon photo of the supposed Hannibal Lecter, eyeing the sharp profile, high cheekbones, and expensive tuxes that blended with Hollywood red carpets and bright lights.

            “He’s on a few movie posters,” Will recalled.

            “More than a few,” Jack replied. “This guy is an Oscar winner, academy award winner, golden globe winner…you name it, he’s done it.”

            “Okay.” There was a beat, and Will shifted in his chair. “Is he blackmailing someone? Part of a sex slave trade?”

            “No, he’s the target of a Lithuanian mob.”

            “Lithuanian,” Will echoed. “Aš nesuprantu.”

            “Good, good,” Jack coached, “glad you kept up on your languages.”

            “How’d he piss them off?”

            “Bad blood. See, guy by the name of Mason Verger runs a big meat packing factory, specifically pork. Breeds, sells, butchers, you name it. Family thing. Behind the scenes though, he smuggles drugs in to a specific small family making their way into LA, kind of pushing up on the Russian mob there. They’ve got bad blood.”

            “We’ve all got bad blood with Russia,” Will agreed.

            “So Verger’s molesting children and torturing them –real sick fuck with a lot of money to pay away his crime, but don’t get me started on that cover up –and he’s using his connections to access big stars. Well, he decides to target this kid that just so happens to be working on a movie with Hannibal Lecter.”

            “Will paused on a report and scanned it, dragging a finger down the margin. “He shows up at Verger’s house, starts a party with him, they do some drugs, Verger starts cutting his face up and eating it, and Lecter calls the police. Police on the scene, they start digging…boom. They find evidence of the Lithuanian mob all over the place.”

            “Lithuanian mob, and a kid in the basement.”

            Will looked back to Jack and shared a grim, bleak grimace.

            “Not only did it stop all of the trafficking in the area, but they lost well over five million in drugs alone,” said Jack, and he sighed. It was the kind of sigh that aged a person. “So...they’re a bit pissed.”

            “And they’re blaming Hannibal Lecter for it?”

            Jack nodded and began to pace listlessly back and forth. Will went back to reading the files.

            “We’re going to pose you as a bodyguard, now that he’s finished a controversial World War 2 movie. You stay close enough to cover him should they make a move on him, and gather intel while you’re there. If we can flush out a few fat cats, so much the better. Save a movie star philanthropist with an apparent drug problem, make the FBI look good again.”

            Jack flashed Will a savage grin.

            “And that’s the kind of PR that won’t get you an ass-chewing,” he added.

            “Is Lecter aware of this?” Will asked, ignoring the dig.

            “Hell, not at all. And he’s not to be made aware. The more normal he behaves, the closer they’ll get to him so we can nab them. A single bodyguard won’t look suspicious after what’s happened.”

            Will stood and tucked the file under his arm. In that moment, snow gently falling outside of the DC headquarters, lamplight silhouetting Jack’s broad shoulders and caressing the manila folder on the desk, marked with a red stamp, he felt a sudden chill. It was much akin to the feeling of someone stepping on your grave, that morbid dread that clawed deep and left marks. He cleared his throat and finally let himself lose track of the dust mote still floating nearby. The feeling passed, and he pressed it flat to the back of his mind.

            “Understood.” He strode to the door and paused just abreast it, glancing back to a Jack still standing regally in the moonlight.

            “Happy New Year, Jack.”

            “Happy New Year, Will.”

-

January 8, 2017

            Alana Bloom was one of the best actresses within the thirty-two to forty-seven-year-old demographic.

            She was also a lovely spy and informant.

            “A bodyguard?” she scoffed. “You don’t know him, but Hannibal Lecter is not someone to really think about hiring bodyguards.”

            “That’s why you’ll use your friendship and repertoire to convince him.”

            LA was hot. Heat rippled off of the sidewalk, left strips of singeing, stinging pain on the back of his legs from the wooden slatted chairs. His knee was in the sunlight, and beneath the pressed black suit his skin protested.

            Alana was completely shielded by a large umbrella, a sunbathing hat, and enormous sunglasses. She didn’t share her shade, and she didn’t seem keen on changing her mind on that.

            “He’s not someone you convince, either. Once he makes up his mind, he makes up his mind.”

            “You once convinced an heiress to divorce her husband so that your informant could sweep in and marry him instead to gain terrorist intel.”

            She spared him a red-lipped smile and turned her head to look across the yard. It was a large, stone privacy fence that enclosed them, covered by security guards and cameras. Alana Bloom wasn’t one to leave her safety up to chance.

            “Are you going to need me as a fake romance to keep a solid cover?”

            “Not this time.”

            “Your need for love as a tool in every mission I’ve heard of is ridiculous, you know,” she said. “I think you’re projecting your need for companionship into your work.”

            “Hardly. It’s an avenue of tactics that you refuse to indulge due to a false sense of integrity and morals, but I recall how you played Margot Verger in your own mission against Mason Verger.” Will gave her a pointed look. “An assignment that you ultimately failed.”

            “I’m still seeing Margot Verger, actually,” Alana said with a sniff.

            “If you falsify your feelings for someone, masked as affection, you gain a different set of knowledge. You gain intel, you gain trusted items or acquaintanceship, your level of scrutiny and suspicion is lowered, and you are allowed access to areas that an impartial person can’t.” Will reached beneath his chair and handed over a small envelope as he spoke –each word fell from lips impartially and with distinct distance.

            Television shows often dramatized what a lot of money looked like –five hundred thousand dollars fit into a semi-large envelope rather than an entire briefcase. Alana accepted it from him and opened it, peeking inside.

            “Love also ensures that when your persona dies, the person doesn’t attempt to seek you out. They mourn you and move on, rather than a spurned lover they may try to track down. The more sudden and jarring the break, the more assurity there is that they won’t ever try to find you because you no longer are,” he continued as she counted.

            “And of course your empathy allows you to reflect their emotions back onto them seamlessly, as though they were your own feelings,” she agreed once she was finished counting. “Tell me, is it really all fake? Every single mission? Every single emotion?”

            He knew what she was referring to, and he was barely able to suppress a smile at her pointed expression. Will stood, unable to stand the heat on the back of his legs, and he sighed, tucking his hands into his pockets.

            “If you want me to better convey genuine affection in our dealings, you have to pay extra,” he said, and he walked away, sliding his sunglasses higher on the bridge of his nose.

-

January 9, 2017

            Hannibal Lecter was just as tall and broad as his picture. Will slunk along the production set and observed from a distance, a hand snaking its way into someone’s back pocket to retrieve their wallet. It was a busy day, to his understanding, everyone running every which way with props, costumes, and makeup brushes. The director was a paunchy man with a beer gut to rival a barfly, and Will had to dodge his wild gestures and jabbing just to nab the walkie-talkie at his hip.

            Even amongst all of the chaos, though, the target remain infallible. He stood with calm repose on the set, watching everything with a placid expression. His eyes were deep-set, and he maintained a level of calm that was as impressive as it was unearthly.

            Will snagged a passport from the clutch in a chair, and he slid it into the inner pocket of his jacket, watching as the scene was redone over and over and over again. Even as the child complained to their mother that their lines were no fun; even as the set director grabbed his hat and bit into the brim, Hannibal Lecter maintained poise. Will lurked alongside the snack table and took a bite of a donut, chewing thoughtfully.

            “Cut! God, fuck, there should be a fucking word stronger than fuck!”

            The director threw his hat and clipboard onto his chair before he stormed away, curses spewing from his mouth in a torrent of fury. Will tracked that before he looked back to the scene, studying the way in which Hannibal remained unimpressed, even with that. He took another bite of the donut, then stowed it away within someone’s small messenger bag.

            “Let’s take a ten,” the assistant said dolefully, and a shrieking whistle sounded. Will allowed the crowd of people to shift him along, making room at the break table for frustrated and ultimately irritated workers.

            He felt their annoyance like stinging nettle on his shins, so he turned away.

            Hannibal Lecter stood just three inches away.

            “Caught you,” Hannibal breathed, and he snatched Will’s arm in a vice-like grip.

            Will couldn’t have said if it was the surprise at being snuck up on, or if it was the feeling of someone actually laying hands on him, but instinct preceded reason. He twisted his wrist and stepped just beneath Hannibal’s arm, turning them so that he was flush against his back, Hannibal’s arm twisted and taut between them.

            It happened in a matter of two seconds, but it drew everyone’s attention. They were surrounded by gawking onlookers, the assistant director, other actors, then the furiously approaching security guards.

            “Caught you,” Will whispered into Hannibal’s ear.

            “Alright, you’ve made your point; let him go,” Hannibal Lecter’s manager said. He was a sniffly sort of man with a hawkish nose and a sneer to his lip –he’d been a child actor that wouldn’t let anyone forget it.

            Will hesitated only a second before he released Hannibal’s wrist and let him go.

            “Hannibal-”

            “Frederick, I want you to search him thoroughly. Security, please-” Hannibal gestured with his sore arm towards Will, his top lip curled into a snarl “-I witnessed this man steal numerous items from the various employees here. A wallet, a walkie-talkie, a passport, and I believe someone’s phone and someone’s ipod.”

            Security was just as baffled as the rest of the onlookers, and Will bore their surprised and horrified expressions remarkably well. He reached into his pocket and withdrew someone’s wallet, tossing it back to them.

            Frederick Chilton was fuming. “You stole from the people here?”

            “Yes.”

            “You willingly admit that you stole from us?” he pressed.

            “Yes.”

            Security was inching closer, although they looked far more stressed than sure of themselves. Will twitched a shoulder into a shrug, then withdrew an ipod, tossing it to the owner.

            “Wh-what are you going to say in your defense!” Frederick blustered.

            “I wanted to show you how poor your security is here,” Will replied. At their stunned silence, he continued, “My name is Thomas Harris. The head of your department hired me to become Hannibal Lecter’s bodyguard. I was tasked with assessing the security situation here, and I’ve drawn my conclusions.”

            “Which are?” Frederick demanded.

            “Your security is poor at best. I was able to retrieve these items with relative ease within forty-five minutes, and I had access to wealthy and vulnerable persons who could have easily come to harm. The only person that noticed my behavior was the target of interest, my new charge.”

            Surprise was a funny thing to witness; he hated seeing the way their eyes shifted from suspicion, the whites far more exposed as they opened their eyes wide like they could somehow see more if they just looked harder. He tracked the shift of slack mouths pursing or pressing flat, cheeks and necks reddening in shame and embarrassment. There was a vulnerability to it, to realize someone had been made into a fool.

            “I’m calling the director,” Frederick said with a snarl.

            “Please do. They have my phone number and background information.”

            There was a general chaos of confusion as Frederick stormed away, leaving in his wake an unruffled Will Graham and a mildly intrigued and amused Hannibal. Will returned the items to their respective owners, then stood beside Hannibal with his hands tucked into his pockets.

            “A bodyguard,” Hannibal began pleasantly.

            “Your bodyguard, sir.”

            “Yet you found it necessary to harm me.”

            Will noted the way his inflection and tone didn’t change; it was difficult to judge his level of displeasure. He studied his mouth a moment longer as it lay in an apathetic line, then looked across the way where Frederick raged and ranted into his phone.

            “I had complete control over the manner of pressure I’d put onto your wrist. I wouldn’t have seriously injured you.”

            “If this is about Mason Verger, it’s unnecessary,” Hannibal informed Will. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

            “I don’t have an opinion on the nature of my being here. Whether you can take care of yourself or not, I was hired to be your bodyguard, therefore I am your bodyguard.”

            Will watched Frederick pace, and he counted the steps. Four forward; about face, three back. It was uneven, and it made him feel lopsided.

            “If you suppose they’re going to pay you well, they won’t. Frederick Chilton is my manager, and he’s a shrewd businessman,” Hannibal Lecter said.

            Will glanced to his jaw, then back to watching the crowd “Money isn’t a concern for me.”

            “Not fond of eye contact?” Hannibal asked.

            “I don’t need eye contact to do my job.”

            “I don’t trust a man that doesn’t make eye contact with me.”

            Will forced himself to look into Hannibal’s eyes as he said, “You don’t have to trust me for me to do my job.”

            Hannibal’s mouth twitched, although it was hard to tell if it was supposed to be a smile or a snarl. He looked away and watched Frederick pace, his voice rising sharply in pitch.

            “What do you mean it’s my fault this happened?!”

            “You didn’t tell them that I put a jelly donut in Frederick Chilton’s bag,” Will said.

            Frederick snapped the phone shut and stormed over to the messenger bag. In his anger, he threw his things into it in rapid succession; books, laptop, memos, papers, and folders.

            Hannibal’s mouth twitched again. “I thought it a lovely snack for him to enjoy later.”

            Judging by the redness in Frederick’s cheeks and the mild disarray of his hair, Will wouldn’t call the upcoming meltdown lovely by any means, but it was funny none-the-less.

            Chocolate icing and raspberry jelly smudged and smeared into his books and electronics was naturally a messy thing to clean up, after all.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2:

January 11, 2017

            Hannibal Lecter was an impeccably clean man.

            Will had the inside of his house gleaned over with a fine tooth comb; there were no secret entrances and no basement of corpses. After the director of the casting agency convinced Frederick Chilton that he had no true choice in the matter, Will was given free rein to do as necessary to establish a safe perimeter.

            Hannibal Lecter simply shrugged and smiled his hopelessly affable smile.

            His home belonged in a museum, in truth. Paintings lined the hallways with delicate precision, measured to avoid becoming too overbearing or crowded. There was a vase in the entryway that Will could estimate at $500,000, and there were enough first edition books in the study to keep him wealthy and comfortable for the rest of his life if his acting career didn’t continue to provide.

            It was all in all an easy sort of situation. Hannibal showed him in, gestured around, then disappeared down a hallway to make a few calls and answer e-mails. Their words and exchanges could fill maybe a page or so; it seemed that he was to be a ghost of a bodyguard, and it suited Will just fine.

            The cameras covered most of the questionable angles, but he’d have to install a few more. He was just inspecting the blind spot leading to the basement when Hannibal made his way down, a small box in hand.

            “How appalling is my security here?” Hannibal asked –definitely sarcastic.

            “Relatively fine,” Will replied. He turned the camera angle just-so, to better capture the landing. “If someone were to break in here, they’d easily see the cameras. We can fix that with smaller cameras and adjust lighting, that they’re not noticed right away.”

            “So long as you keep the cameras out of my bedroom, I’m amenable to the idea,” said Hannibal, and he skirted around Will, box held aloft. “That is, after all, where the skeletons are.”

            He smelled of bergamot and a spiced vanilla. Will inhaled the taste of it, swallowed it down, then stepped out of the way with a dip of his head.

            “I put the skeletons back in the closet for you,” he said, “when I was upstairs earlier.”

            “Thank you,” Hannibal said with a brief smile.

            There was a pause then, on the landing together in the dim basement lighting. Will wasn’t much for conversation unless it was necessary –ghosts weren’t meant to be seen, let alone heard. There was a hesitation to his steps, though, that would have normally led him upstairs where his thumb drive was currently at work installing a firewall to keep the mob from potentially hacking into the target’s computers. It was also gleaning over any of Lecter’s personal files for Will to peruse later to see if it gave him any ties or connections to the mob or Verger.

            “Are you wondering at the rumors?” Hannibal asked quietly. The shadows of the basement silhouetted his broad shoulders and slim hips, gave him an altogether dark manner of appearance. Grey and black hollowed his cheeks and made his jaw appear lethal enough to cut stone.

            “Which ones?”

            “That I eat my competition; bones and all.”

            Will had heard those rumors in his early debriefing of the target. The fact that the rumors had begun after Hannibal Lecter had let out a particularly vicious and cruel comment about a man’s sexist performance in a romantic comedy hadn’t earned him any friends, although the rumors had first come from the aforementioned competition –he’d taken it all with a grain of salt, as Will often did when dealing with civilians. Their worlds and their worries were of a different variety than his. Ghost agents didn’t have concerns regarding reputation and who the best actor was; their concerns circulated which hard drive held the nation’s bomb codes, and which one held three gigs worth of porn. One was the target thumb drive, the other was a waste of time and held four viruses coded into the video content.

            “I wasn’t going to be surprised if I’d found your collection of illegal narcotics,” Will said after a pause. “However; I saw nothing of suspicion.”

            “Oh, yes,” Hannibal recalled faintly. The edges of his eyes crinkled as his gaze narrowed. “I suppose you suspected a variety of drugs after the incident with Mason Verger.”

            If incident was just another word for a man cutting his face off and eating it after the aforementioned drug use, then yes. Will studied Hannibal Lecter’s stance and body language, but he appeared just as genial as always. If the situation with Mason Verger troubled him, it didn’t show in his skin. Glancing to his eyes, Will couldn’t see any trauma lying within there, either. Unflappable, Hannibal Lecter was. Will looked away and counted the nails driven into the wooden beam off to the side.

            “There was nary a kilo of cocaine.”

            “One makes mistakes sometimes, in their acquaintance,” said Hannibal. “It is only then that they’re able to truly learn the error of their ways and move on.”

            “Is that a reference to Mason Verger or yourself?”

            Hannibal smiled just enough to expose his mildly-endearing and overly sharp canines. Rather than answer, he turned and descended into the basement, leaving Will with an itch he wasn’t sure how to scratch, and a weird feeling along his spine that somehow he was in over his head.

-

February 14, 2017

            “I’ve got information on some of the people you need to keep an eye on,” Alana said over the web cam.

            “Have any of them been on the move?”

            “Just one, but he’s hard to track. I lost him after tailing him from a small drug delivery, but it looks like they’re recovering just fine from the Verger incident.”

            Will glanced to the files on his laptop, studying each one with careful attention. He idly adjusted the headphones over his ears, then fixed the mic closer to his mouth.

            “Who is The Great Red Dragon?”

            “He’s the one to look out for. He’s a mercenary that really has no allegiance. You should actually look into some old Ghost files and see just what sort of person he used to be before he went rogue. I bet the guy has a dossier to rival yours.”

            “You know old files aren’t accessible.”

            “It was worth a shot.”

            “He’s hired by the Lithuanians?” Will asked.

            “For now. I thought it suspicious, as it was right after the Lecter incident. If he’s the one you’re going to go for, you’d better be careful. He’s difficult to pin down.”

            Will smiled and skimmed over the scantily-given information. In truth, it wasn’t so much a real smile as any of his smiles seemed to be. It was more of an acknowledgement that he’d heard her but had nothing much to say on the matter. Other people seemed to need that physical reassurance in dialogue, otherwise they became uncertain or uncomfortable. He’d learned that through trial and error.

Jack, for the most part, ensured that Will didn’t have to deal entirely too much with people since most of Will’s trial and error tended to offend most people. Out of anyone to have to work with, Alana was one of the better choices, although she was still sore from their first encounter. At that time, she’d been the target of interest and Will was the hapless romantic that swept her off of her feet.

            Until he found her real identity, that is. After that, the romance seemed to inexplicitly end at the same moment that she was arrested under the accusation of espionage. A few plea deals and exchanges of currency later, and she was a tentative informant in her free time between crime show television shoots.

            “How’s Hannibal?” she asked.

            “He’s Hannibal,” Will said. “He wakes up at five A.M. on the dot, he cooks his own breakfast, brews his own coffee, and sees himself to work with a punctuality that coincides with mine.”

            “And you wake up at four to ensure you’ve the upper hand, even then?”

            “Naturally.”

            “Is he warming up to having a bodyguard?”

            If warming up meant that Hannibal spoke approximately seven to fourteen words in a day to him, then yes. Will hummed, chewed on his bottom lip and thumbed idly at the top one. In truth, Hannibal wasn’t a difficult person to guard. He humored any of Will’s actions or idiosyncrasies that kept him safe, and he maintained at all times a level of professional kindness. In the evenings, Will had a three hour break to catch up on any of his errands, at which point it was generally time for dinner. Among Will’s offers to help, it was revealed that Hannibal preferred to cook alone.

            “He cooks,” he said at last. “And he endures having a bodyguard remarkably well, despite not feeling the need for one.”

            “It took a lot of convincing at first, I’ll have you know.”

            “You were paid,” Will reminded her.

            “And here you are without a single complaint from him to you,” she retorted. “And he cooks for you. His cooking is legendary, Will. He didn’t cook for me until we’d been friends at least four or five months.”

            “Thomas,” he reminded her. “I’m working.

            “Thomas,” she allowed, “what’s the next step?”

            “I’ll need some time to look into Red Dragon personally,” he murmured thoughtfully. “This is good intel, but I need more.”

            “Good intel…that’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

            “I once told you that your eyes reminded me of starlight,” Will reminded her.

            “The sweetest sincere thing you’ve ever said to me.”

            “Your eyes are like starlight,” Will replied. “They’re a pale shade of blue to silver, and when you’re happy they shine. As far as human-to-metaphorical comparison goes, I was honest.”

            “You’re a dick.”

            The knock on his door kept him from replying. Will was just closing out of the documents and video chat as Hannibal walked in, leaving him standing somewhat sheepishly beside his desk, headphones in hand and the beginnings to a random Youtube video starting up.

            “My apologies,” Hannibal said, poised in the doorway. “You’re busy.”

            Will glanced to the video of vine compilations, then back. “Not particularly.”

            “I wasn’t sure if you’d seen the date, but it’s Valentine’s Day.”

            “It is, sir.” There was a pause, then he ventured carefully, “Do you have a date you’d like for me to accompany you on?”

            Hannibal smiled briefly, then shook his head and tucked his hands into his pockets. “No, but if you had somewhere you needed to be, I thought to give you the evening off.”

            The vine compilation video let out a particularly savage shriek, and Will glanced to it before he looked back to the oddly colored tie on Hannibal’s chest.

            “I’ve nowhere to be,” he said, staring at the tie.

            “I heard you,” Hannibal said, quietly. “You said, ‘I once told you that your eyes reminded me of starlight…your eyes are like starlight.’ Who were you romancing, Thomas?”

            There are many ways that a person can handle being caught off guard. Luckily, Will Graham was a quick thinker, and this was nothing in comparison to the one time he’d been caught off guard by a snake charmer in a back alley in New York.

            “It’s my ex,” he explained after what seemed like an appropriate pause. “She doesn’t want to get back together.”

            “Even with her starlit eyes?”

            “Especially because of her starlit eyes.” Will managed an awkward smile, and he shifted his stance. “She’s seeing someone else, as I came to find out tonight. I suppose you heard that, too?”

            “Just the tail end with the stars,” he said after a moment. “I was walking up and didn’t wish to interrupt.”

            “So much the better, as she’s lost complete interest in me.”

            “My condolences. Unrequited love is a painful sort of thing to endure,” Hannibal said, and he shifted in the doorway. His quick, flitting gaze scoped out the room, and he smiled thinly. “Do you not feel the need to decorate?”

            The furnishings were Spartan at best; Will hadn’t thought much for attempting to decorate the room. The bed was made and fitted with a standard, light blue bed set, the curtains were an off-white, and the desk was a light maple color. Will’s things could be condensed down to two large suitcases, and it was impeccably clean and tidy with nary a dust particle in place.

            “I like the décor as it is,” Will assured him.

            “It’s bare,” Hannibal noted.

            “A lot of decoration can become cluttered.”

            “Of course,” Hannibal allowed. He paused for a moment, and for the first time since Will had been working with him, there seemed to be a genuine hesitation to his mannerisms. “I do hope it’s not because you feel that your work here will be temporary.”

            God, Will hoped that it was temporary. LA was too hot for him, and playing the bodyguard wasn’t so exciting as it sounded. He needed a better puzzle than ‘the waiting game’. “Do I have a reason to suppose that it’s temporary?” he asked, feigning a mild worry.

            “Do you?” Hannibal wondered.

            “I’ll put a painting of a boat on the wall,” Will assured him, “if it means you don’t worry that I’ll disappear suddenly.”

            “That’s all I ask,” said Hannibal with what looked to be the edges of a genuine smile. “If you need the night off, regardless, you are free to leave the premises. I’ll live for one evening.”

            “You’re too kind, sir.”

            “I’m really not.”

            There was something devilish there, in the way his eyes gleamed as he left Will to his business that stayed with Will for some time after. As he read and reread the intel on Red Dragon, he also turned over the reports concerning Mason Verger and the incident that led to Will’s being there. He wondered about a great many things, mostly those surrounding the whispers from skeptics that claimed that maybe there was a method to the madness of Hannibal’s sudden friendship of Mason, or if Hannibal Lecter had just been a poor man in a bad situation after all.

            A mildly pleasant Valentine’s Day, all things considered. The next day, Will bought a cheap canvas painting of a boat adrift at sea, and he it placed it on the wall just beside the door.

-

March 20, 2017

            Hannibal Lecter was as clean as a whistle.

            He didn’t indulge in drugs, and his alcohol intake was reserved to fine wines and after dinner relaxation. His small collection remained in the pantry or the basement, unearthed with a certain reverence that made it ceremonial. He attended soirées and charity banquets with a quiet dignity, and there was only one instance where he became just buzzed enough that he requested that Will call in a driver.

            It was probably the quietest mission that Will had ever partaken in.

            So much the better; the last mission had left him with a few wounds that still ached when it was going to rain, and the level of care given to his field-doctored stitches had made his normal medical consultant positively red. He was getting old; that much was obvious. Thirty-five was nearly ancient for a Ghost, although he was just talented enough that the word ‘retirement’ never thought to pass Jack Crawford’s lips.

            Ghosts didn’t retire –they simply disappeared.

            “Nothing,” Jack repeated flatly. It contrasted with the lovely spring afternoon, his voice; it was rough and just frustrated enough that it made Will shift in his seat and cross a leg.

            “I’ve looked over personal records, bank accounts, relations; he has no ties to the mob other than the incident with Mason Verger.”

            “How’s their activity been?”

            “Non-existent. No cars have followed us, and production continues to go well. Alana Bloom looked into their men, but the person of interest, Red Dragon, hasn’t made an appearance. Either they’re holding their breath to see if he was specifically targeting them, or they’ve realized he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

            Ducks flew across the pond, and Will tracked their movement dispassionately. He idly tossed some bread crumbs to a suspiciously aggressive goose, and at a respectable distance on the bench, Jack Crawford skimmed a newspaper and pretended not to notice him.

            “The last guy that was in the wrong place at the wrong time got a Columbian necktie,” Jack said heavily, after a jogger had passed them. “They’re willing to wait.”

            “As am I,” Will said. “I’ve continued my practices. I won’t get soft. It’s hard to slip away to actually try and gain intel myself, though, as a live-in bodyguard.”

            “I heard he cooks for you,” Jack said.

            Will grunted in affirmation. “He enjoys cooking.”

            “A bit odd for him to be concerned about feeding his guard.”

            “He doesn’t feel like he needs a guard. He’s mentioned Mason Verger once, but it was in passing and was never brought up again,” said Will. “If he wasn’t so much in the public eye, I’d say make the guy a Ghost. Clean as a whistle, Jack.”

            “He isn’t opening up?”

            Will shook his head.

            The goose made the mistake of getting too close to Jack in its quest for bread; he nudged it aside, then lifted a leg in panicked self-defense as it hissed and attempted to bite his shoe.

            “God damn, son-of-a-”

            Will tossed the bread across the jogging path, and the goose gave Jack the clear in order to make a run to it; he tried his best not to grin as Jack kicked and brushed feathers from his sensible pantsuit and now scuffed shoe.

            “Get closer to him,” Jack said irritably once the goose was out of reach. “Maybe everything he knows is kept close to his chest to ensure his back is covered. If you get close enough, he should talk. There’s something, Will, otherwise I wouldn’t have been given this order. You got your orders, but I’ve got mine, too.”

            “If you want that, maybe Alana Bloom would-”

            “She won’t. She’s his friend, and she said she won’t employ dirty tactics on a man like Lecter.”

            Will caught on immediately. “When you say close, you mean-”

            “However you need to. He’s got friends, Will; make him need you more than a friend. You’ve been there maybe two months, and so far you’ve done nothing but keep a few fangirls at bay and aided him as a designated driver.” Jack let that sit for a moment before he added, “Just don’t want you getting soft. Have to keep you sharp for the next mission, if you’d wrap this up fast enough.”

            “I want somewhere cold for the next mission,” Will muttered. The unforgiving sun had bestowed on him uneven tan lines and a permanent feeling of sweat the back of his neck where the dress shirt rubbed.

            “I can do that.”

            “Somewhere green, too. It’s a desert out here, Jack.”

            “Give me something, first.”

            “I’m looking for it…whatever that something is, I’m looking. I just don’t know what you’re expecting me to find.”

            “Anything. There’s something there…do what you do best.”

            “Understood.”

            Jack turned a page in the newspaper and sighed. “I know it’s not ideal, considering I don’t even know your sexual orientation, but we need this. It’s a chance I’m willing to take. You’ve done it before, haven’t you? This isn’t the first time.”

            “Uhm…are you on bluetooth or something?” a young girl said, inching away from Jack. “I…God, this is awkward.”

            Jack looked over, and standing behind an oak tree, Will was able to commit the appearance of horror and surprise into his mind, locking it away with a few other precious memories he had. Sneaking off like that in the middle of a conversation was one of the few trivialities he enjoyed, but if Jack was willing to pimp him out for information, so much the better. It was the only form of revenge he had.

            “Mom!” the girl cried out, standing up. “Stranger danger!”

            Will walked away, savoring the shouting and fury that the mother held regarding potential perverts and their questions regarding a young girl’s sexual orientation.

-

April 1, 2017

            Hannibal Lecter was a considerably good actor.

            Will decided this as he was once again on set, observing his work. It wasn’t so much the emotions that he conveyed as he read his lines; Will was good at seeing the truth behind someone’s delivery of speech, the way their body language betrayed them through stance and micro-expressions. His entire professional career since he was twenty-years-old had circulated his ability to see another person for what they were beneath their carefully crafted social veneer.

            No, no; it was something in his eyes and the way they told a story, even when the rest of him stood still.

            “This must be boring for you,” Frederick said beside the snack table. Will sipped a cup of coffee and observed him over the rim of it; their relationship hadn’t eased ever since Chilton had removed his books from his messenger bag and discovered the decimated and smeared chocolate donut inside. The jelly had glued pages of his planner together, apparently.

            “Oh?”

            “I read your resume. Barney spoke of your service with the police, then the military; being wounded in action gave you an honorable discharge from the Marines, then you worked with the FBI for awhile as a consultant and ‘special investigator’. Quite the resume for someone working as a Hollywood bodyguard.”

            “People get old. The government gets old.”

            “And this isn’t old for you? Boring?”

            Will finished the coffee and set the cup down, tucking his hands into his pockets. In truth, his biggest headache was Frederick Chilton, not Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal, for the most part, allowed Will the freedom to do as he wished, so long as it didn’t interfere with Hannibal’s work or social life.

            And by God, did the man have a social life. The amount of charity events alone would keep Will busy for months if he was unlucky enough. How did one slip away from yet another charity in order to try and hunt down the ever mysterious Red Dragon?

            “I’m content where I am,” Will said, “which can’t be said for you, I’d imagine.”

            Frederick often turned various shades of red when dealing with Will –now was no different. He stormed away to leave Will with a mild sense of accomplishment, as well as the stab of shame that he was sure had been thrust onto him from Chilton. Chilton hadn’t adjusted well from child-acting to adult-like managing of modestly famous philanthropists. Often enough, when Hannibal spoke to him, Will could sense the animosity that was barely held back from Chilton, something that rippled off of his skin and smelled like sweat and Axe body spray.

            No, no, the problem Will had was that Hannibal wasn’t going to budge on their relationship. They were work colleagues in the loosest sense of the word –Will was there, and Hannibal accepted it with an amicable smile. He didn’t share his personal life –what little he did say was the same amount that a Wiki page could hold. He cooked dinner for the two of them because he said that he always made far too much, and he was accepting of Will having a second key for his own comings and goings within the house, to better guard Hannibal from the dangers that the target wasn’t aware were even there.

            There was a barrier there, and Will was still puzzling on how to break it down to gain the information that he needed. Jack’s consistent harping made it difficult to forget.

            He couldn’t truly complain, though; his false identity was easy to remember, as it held shreds of the real truth inside of it. He didn’t have to explain how or why he was quick to notice small details, and people were impressed rather than anxious when he unearthed inhuman-like reflexes. As a bodyguard, it was expected of him to be like this. In Hollywood, stunt doubles and extras in a martial arts film could boast the same talent.

            Will was considering another cup of coffee to keep him awake through the monotony that was Hollywood when he noticed a person. They were neither too tall nor too short; they were neither too thin nor too fat. They wore a baseball cap and a standard workman’s uniform, left hand tightly gripping a utility box. In truth, there was nothing the least remarkable about them, from their short haircut to their placid expression and downcast eyes.

            Will’s gut was twisting, though, and he always trusted his gut.

            “Who is that?” he asked one of the girls by the table, motioning towards the man in question. They were heading towards the exit, waving amiably to a passerby. His stomach churned uncomfortably.

            “I don’t know,” the girl said, wrinkling her nose. “There’s so many people that come in and out of here. Could be anybody. One guy gets fired, another’s in his place five minutes before he was even let go.”

            Will glanced to the stairs the man had just come down, then the scaffolding above that housed the lighting. Just beneath, Hannibal recited his lines with perfect precision, his expression shifting to grief as he turned away from the actress on the set.

            Will didn’t give it a second thought. He took one step, then another; before he knew it, he was running towards Hannibal, shoving past people as the scaffolding above let out a shrieking scream and came loose, barreling towards the floor.

            There are many things that a person may think as they see death rushing to them; many people think of their regrets, their hopes; others claim they see their life flash before them and all of the hateful or wonderful things they’d done. Will had heard a witness once testify that they saw an angel that day, but Will knew better; there were no angels in this world, let alone a god that would send them to save his precious children. The angel they claimed to have seen was him stepping between them and the bullet and saving the day.

            This time was no different. As he collided with Hannibal and sent them flying through the window that’d been made out of spun-sugar, he didn’t see his life or Hannibal’s flash before them. He saw them as they were in that moment, adrenaline pounding and breath catching. He stared into Hannibal’s eyes as he wrapped his arms around him, and he finally saw beneath the veneer of cordiality that’d been frustrating him for the last four-or-so months:

            Hunger. Excitement.

            Will turned them so that he was the one to take the brunt of the fall; they hit the ground, hard. The impact was jarring, and the sounds that crashed around them made his ears ring. Hannibal’s weight pressed into his lungs, and he let out a breath and barely managed to suck in another one –stop. Slow down, his mind urged him as he held his breath behind his lips. Your body wants to speed up, but now is the time to slow down. You are stronger than your body. You control your existence in its entirety.

            One breath, then another; much slower this time. Just above him, close enough to kiss, Hannibal stared at him with those dark eyes that looked deliciously like sin, and Will stared back, allowing some aspect of his own cruelty to show through. It felt too quiet; Will was stifled within their bubble that felt far too close to bursting. A wild thought entered his mind that he should kiss him, then. He leaned in close; Hannibal held his breath, eager.

            “Holy shit!”

            “Someone get them up!”

            It took a second too long for Will to hear the shouting of the concerned and worried. Hannibal was lifted up from him, and Will gingerly climbed to his feet, swaying. The back of his head burned.

            “Thomas, what in the hell-”

            Will took off at a sprint, leaping over the fallen lighting and making his way to the exit that the suspect had left through. He barely managed to dodge a confused and concerned assistant, then burst out of the warehouse, scanning the area for anything suspicious.

            Just outside, everything continued as normal. A few people spared him mildly concerned glances at his stance and expression, cold and detached and furious as it was, but other than that, no one appeared overly suspicious. There was no hat-clad maintenance worker, let alone anyone in coveralls and a toolbox. No one made a quick getaway, nor did any car rip down fencing or security tape to escape.

            They’d disappeared.

            He was aware distantly of a wetness on the back of his neck; this was just before his knees buckled underneath him, and blackness ate away at the edges of his vision. Rest sounded mighty nice, in that moment, and Will Graham wasn’t in a position not to indulge that instinct.

            He thought of Hannibal’s eyes, and that was what saw him into a deep sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3:

April 2, 2017

            Will stood overlooking the backyard of Hannibal Lecter’s grandiose estate; he was well, all things considered. A mild concussion had kept him from sleeping the night before, but he’d had worse. Head wounds always bled more than they had to, and it made more than one of the lovely makeup artists on set weep over his poor curls, according to a dismal Chilton at the hospital.

            “How are you feeling today?” Hannibal asked. He handed over a cup of coffee, and Will accepted it, scanning the perimeter. Everything was quiet; the kind of quiet that could only happen after an accident that wasn’t at all an accident.

            “Well enough to work,” he assured Hannibal. “My job is to protect you, not have you worry over me.”

            “You took a concussion to keep me safe,” Hannibal said, head dipped politely.

            “Just part of the job. It was mild.” After a beat, Will added, “the hospital was unnecessary.”

            “My manager insisted, as he’s sure you’d sue otherwise.”

            “I won’t sue. My job is to guard you, sir, and I did.”

            They stood in silence, soft huffs of breath punctuated occasionally by the sipping of hot coffee. Will took his black; coffee was a means to an end, that means being the caffeine and the end being the wakeful alertness necessary for his job. Sugar and cream were unnecessary additives, and he felt some semblance of comradery to see that Hannibal seemed to feel the same.

            “I’ve never seen someone move so quickly as that,” Hannibal said at last. His voice grated the silence. “One moment, I saw you beside the break table, and the next you were tackling me through a window. It was quite heroic.”

            “I’ve had training,” said Will.

            “I did glean over your resume. You had two tours in Iraq?”

            “Yes,” Will agreed, and he set the empty coffee cup down.

            “Police work, then FBI work; it’s impressive.”

            “Thank you, sir.” Will hesitated, then glanced over to him. Jack’s words rang through his mind.

            “What I thought interesting is that you saw something that no one else did. A freak accident at work that you realized just moments before it occurred.” Hannibal let that sit in the air for a moment, and Will met his gaze hesitantly.

            “It’s my job to see things that no one else sees.”

            Hannibal’s smile was difficult to read. “And just after, you stood and ran after something expectantly.”

            “Adrenaline,” Will explained. “Nothing more.”

            “Adrenaline,” Hannibal repeated.

            “Yes, adrenaline.” Will chewed his words around and counted the number of leaves on the branch near them. Too flexible and weak to hold a person’s weight should they climb it, so he left it alone in his appraisal of the house’s security. “It’s happened before. Iraq. A dangerous situation occurs, and you rush to see who or what there is to blame. Sometimes there’s no who or what. Sometimes…it’s just bad luck.”

            Hannibal hummed quietly and stepped closer to Will. Although he was the same height, the breadth of his shoulders was far wider, as was the energy that rippled off of him. It made Will think of those moments just before a fight, when one took a deep breath and assessed the situation for what it really was. Lethal. Dangerous. Enticing. He looked away from Hannibal and studied the expanse of the backyard. He couldn’t tell if the tingle of excitement was his or Hannibal’s.

            “And there you are, looking away,” Hannibal noted lightly. “First, I supposed it to be untrustworthy, but you’ve never stepped past the boundaries of your job. Then, I supposed it a habit from childhood; perhaps there was an abusive parent?”

            “I was adopted as an infant,” Will said. “There was no abuse.”

            “Yes, so I decided. Then, I realized that you seem to go out of your way to avoid eye contact with me, but it’s not so with others. If your gaze falls along their face, you don’t make it a habit of looking away quickly and unexpectedly. You allow your eyes to linger before glancing on naturally. No one makes note of it.”

            “Apart from you, apparently.”

            “Apart from me,” Hannibal agreed, and he unexpectedly reached out to turn Will towards him. It was a quick movement, nothing more; Will allowed himself to be turned, that they were chest to chest, and he looked to Hannibal’s eyes, tensing.

            “And there it is,” Hannibal said quietly. “That look in your eyes.”

            “What is it that you think you’re seeing?” Will wondered.

            “Much like your eyes, I tried to see your mannerisms. There was something off, but I saw it in that moment, as you sent me through a window.”

            “It was sugar glass.”

            “Either way,” Hannibal said with a small smile. “You avoid my eyes because you have feelings for me.”

            Will was quick on his feet; being a Ghost agent meant flexibility in all situations, as well as the ability to turn whatever one needed to their advantage. The moment the words sunk deep, Will held onto them, turned them every which way, then leapt at the opportunity without hesitation.

            “You’re wrong,” he said, looking away. “I-I was simply doing my job, I-”

            “You’re blushing,” Hannibal noted.

            He was, but that was part of the job. “I’m not.” He took in a curt breath, held it, then looked down. “Sir, if the point of your statement is to make me uncomfortable, it’s working.”

            “It wasn’t to make you uncomfortable in the least,” Hannibal assured him. He reached out, and his fingertips slid along Will’s jaw to tilt his head back. “It was merely a preface to reassure you that I feel much the same way.”

            Kisses were much like other aspects of Will Graham’s work –work. He was quite good at them, and he allowed this one to linger, the feeling of warmth of Hannibal’s lips along his pleasant, all things considered. He pulled away at the last possible moment, twisting his expression.

            “We can’t,” he said, just soft enough to make Hannibal lean in.

            “Why can’t we?”

            “I’m your bodyguard. You’re my boss.”

            “As your boss, then, I’m ordering you to indulge in your feelings,” Hannibal replied, and he dragged his thumb along Will’s bottom lip. “No one need know.”

            Will Graham wasn’t a religious man, but he was more than aware that sometimes things happened that fell perfectly into place. As he wrapped an arm around Hannibal and pulled him in to indulge in a much deeper, hungrier kiss, he figured that this would not only make Jack Crawford happy, but it’d aid in the mission, too.

            If one happened to enjoy it at the same time, so much the better.

-

April 12, 2017

            Being a Ghost meant that you didn’t exist. Whenever Will ended an identity, he had a series of steps and plans that ensured that any photographs, texts, e-mails, or social media outlets he’d been part of were not only deleted, but utterly impossible to find no matter the ‘Geek Squad’ that was recruited for the task.

            Being a bodyguard for a Hollywood Star made that mildly difficult.

            “You never seem to be in any photos,” Beverly complained. “I’m over here, showing my husband all sorts of staff and people working on the set, then I go to show him a photo of the guy that saved The Hannibal Lecter from being crushed, and you’re all brighted out!”

            Beverly Katz was the forensics specialist on the new movie that Hannibal Lecter was filming –blood spatter and fibers, mostly, she said.

            “Brighted out?” Will asked, confused.

            “Yeah, your face is all blurry; you caught one hundred percent of that flash.” Beverly eyed him suspiciously “Must be that pale skin of yours.”

            He liked Beverly after the first time meeting her. She worked with the FBI in the Behavioral Analysis Unit, and it was no coincidence that during daylight hours, Jack Crawford was known as the director of the BAU. When at all possible, he liked to leave some of his own scattered here or there for Will to use, should any situation turn towards the worst.

            Of course, her knowledge of his own identity was horribly skewed. As long as all went well, she’d never know of his own position within the FBI.

            “If you’d like another photo, I won’t complain,” he said.

            Her phone was unearthed and a photo was snapped so quickly that Will would have suspected her of having it already in hand.

            “Cut! Fucking Christ, let’s go over this again…”

            “Yeah, that’s good,” Beverly said, and she showed Will the photo. It was decent, all things considered. Beverly’s lopsided smile was genuine, and Will looked as per his usual –dour, serious, and withdrawn. “Seriously, it was crazy. Every photo I had, you looked like a white smudge.”

            “I don’t normally take photos,” Will confessed. “No one knows my angles.”

            “You’ve got good angles,” she said, and she turned his face one way, then the other. “Seriously, you could have modeled underwear or something with a face like that. The girls fall all over your wake when you walk by with Lecter, you know.”

            “Do they?” Will asked, feigning dubious confusion. Some of the girls on set hadn’t made it a secret their attraction to him –he was sure it stemmed from his quiet disposition and curls combed back to something mildly manageable. Men that observed more than they spoke and let their actions to their talking were often targeted as the ‘mysterious type,’ and romanticized in the observer’s eyes.

            Naturally, the more well-liked he was, the easier blending into his position would be, so he made no effort to stamp out their interest.

            “Oh, you don’t see them trying to sneak photos of you?”

            He most certainly had. “I thought they were trying to take photos of Hannibal,” he lied. Then, “At the very least, I don’t have to worry about that with you.”

            “Yeah,” Beverly agreed, “you’re not my type. Brooding and mysterious is only as hot as the mystery. Once you figure someone out, the mystery fades.”

            “Ah, you’ve discovered me?”

            “Hell yeah. Military background, police background, a stint as a consultant to the FBI –looked your records up recently, out of curiosity. You worked with my boss.”

            The best way to lie was to leave enough of the truth that the lie was easy to remember. This persona was by far one of the easiest, considering it played into quite a bit of the truth of Will’s professional background.

            “Sorry to not have met you sooner,” Will said with a genuinely charming smile. “I’ll have to let Jack know that he did us both a wrong. Between the two of us, though, I think he did you the most wrong in pulling you out of your forensics lab just so that you could tell Hollywood directors whether or not their blood spatter looks real.”

            That took Beverly Katz aback, and it took her several seconds before she could say anything. She looked him up and down suspiciously, glanced to the photo of the two of them, then smiled.

            “You are dangerous,” she said gravely. “I’m a sucker for the sweet type.”

            “Now I’m brooding as well as sweet?”

            “Looks like a tragic backstory with a well-intentioned smile sort to me, but maybe I’m just digging the hole deeper,” said Beverly with a sigh. “Good thing I’m married, otherwise I’d really give you a run for your money.”

            There was that. Will supposed there was something to be said about being able to fool an FBI agent, but then again he hadn’t done anything remotely suspicious other than his job –the hero that saved Hannibal Lecter was a tough burden, or so he’d discovered. When the time came, he’d delete the photo off of Beverly’s phone –as well as any other phone that was quick enough to snap a shot of him –and apart from potentially bumping into her at the FBI HQ as a ‘consultant’, she’d never have to endure seeing his disarming smile again.

-

April 18, 2017

            People always noticed his scars. They were difficult to hide when one was in the complete nude.

            “You’ve a tapestry that’s a testament to your work,” Hannibal said, gliding a hand along Will’s side. His fingertips paused in order to worry over a particularly thick scarring. “No one could question what you’ve put your body to use for.”

            “Gunshot wound,” Will explained. “I was a cop.”

            Hannibal hummed softly and pressed a kiss to the spot, reverent as he always was with Will’s body. It seemed that every time he found another spot in which Will was particularly hard on himself, he seemed bound and determined to heal it through his gentle touch alone. Could one will away the lifetime of violence through their softness? With nothing but good intentions and kindness?

            “What took you to the military?”

            “As a cop, they call it secondhand trauma –you start seeing perpetrators everywhere. As a soldier, as least I knew which way to face to see the enemy.”

            It was a standard answer, although Will didn’t suppose that Hannibal would know that. He’d heard plenty of soldiers and cops speak of one another’s profession, always with that tone of absolute knowing –soldiers couldn’t see themselves as cops. Cops couldn’t see themselves as soldiers. Both sides couldn’t understand learning how to face a newfound enemy –soldiers saw civilians as a source to protect, while cops for the most part seemed to view them as a villain or a complete and utter pain-in-the-ass.

            Will, having endured training for Special Forces and Cops alike, could say with utmost certainty that neither profession had truly prepared him for being a Ghost Agent.

            “Do you see enemies now?” Hannibal wondered, palm pressed flat to Will’s stomach.

            “Everyone has the potential to be a threat,” Will said quietly. Sprawled out across Hannibal’s bed, it was a vulnerable position, but appearance was key. Lovers, even new, sprawled and stretched every which way over one another. Lovers kissed and held hands, pinkies interlocked as they walked down the street –at least being Hannibal Lecter’s bodyguard meant that Will didn’t have to do that. Their relationship had to be a secret, after all, made all the better by its sordid depravity among the common folk.

            “Even me?”

            Will rolled over and pinned Hannibal down, hands clasping his wrists together overhead, stretching him out so that his muscles stood out, taut. “Especially you,” he said, and he mouthed hungrily along his collarbone. “What’s the saying? Mistletoe is deadly if you eat it?”

            “And a kiss is even deadlier if you mean it?”

            “That’s the one.”

            “And what sort of kiss do you give me, Thomas?” Hannibal asked. Rather than resist his restraints, he held still and stared up at Will, preening beneath his restrictive grasp.

            Will smiled and leaned in close, brushing his lips against Hannibal’s, briefly.

            “The deadliest.”

-

May 3, 2017

            It wasn’t until the late afternoon that Will and Hannibal picked up a tail that followed them from the film location to the house. Will noticed it after the driver took a particularly dangerous turn that cut through three lanes of traffic, and another car went careening after them. He tracked it through the back window, and seated beside Hannibal in the limousine he tensed without entirely meaning to.

            Something was finally happening. Fucking finally.

            “What’s wrong?” Hannibal asked. “Paparazzi?”

            “No,” Will replied. He licked his lips, then, “I suppose that I was thinking of the new coffee delivery girl.”

            “The one that tried to grope you?”

            Tried was the key word, there. Will thought grasping her wrist and holding it tight enough to hurt would have deterred her, but she seemed to melt into him, oozing at the idea of his quick reflexes and strength.

            “You should pay less attention to me and more attention to your lines,” Will urged.

            “The lines are easy; it’s the person that I work with that makes it difficult to focus.”

            “Help her with her lines, too,” Will urged.

            “You’re attempting to distract me from you,” Hannibal noted. “It won’t work.”

            Will glanced to his watch. With traffic –as there was always traffic in So-Cal, so it seemed –it’d be another forty-five minutes before they reached the studio.

            “You think I couldn’t distract you?” Will wondered.

            “Not in the least.”

            Will glanced to the partition between the driver’s seat and their wraparound seating, and seeing it closed, he grabbed Hannibal and hauled him across the seats so that he could pin him effectively, hips pressed down with just enough roughness to bite sweetly.

            “The way that you remove clothing is efficient,” Hannibal noted, although he made no motion to stop Will from tugging down his trousers.

            Hannibal’s laugh as he began to pepper him with kisses had a tender note to it, something that smacked of more than lust as Will bit down particularly hard on the inside of his thigh and left a mark. As he thoroughly, and more than capably, distracted Hannibal from what he’d been looking at, Will kept a casual eye on the car that kept pace at a reasonable distance, turning with their turns and stopping with their stops. Sex, when with the right person, was pleasant; to say that he was overcome, though, would have been an overstatement. Will Graham was rather, rather good at multi-tasking.

            Once Hannibal –cheeks flushed and hair mussed –saw himself to hair and makeup, Will checked in with everyone, shook hands with all of the appropriate people, then slipped out of a back door with nary a concern or notice.

            The car that’d followed them sat back by the staffing area, unsurprisingly empty. Will took a casual photo of the license plate, then paused by the back tire to tie his shoe. Stooped down as he was, he was able to pocket the small air pressure cap, and he stood and brushed gravel from his dress slacks casually.

            “Can I help you?”

            The man that stood just behind him was above average height with a cleft palate. Turning about, Will swept a discerning gaze over him casually, almost lazily. Blue eyes were small and set above an unforgiving brow, and his short hair was close-cropped. Will could recognize him from several of the photos that Alana sent him, and with a thin-lipped smile, Will stretched out his hand.

            “Tying my shoe, sorry. Is this your car?”

            The man didn’t shake his hand. “Yes.”

            “It’s a nice model,” Will noted.

            His eyes flickered to the car for the briefest of seconds before cutting back. “It is.”

            “People don’t admire Bentley’s enough anymore; it’s unfortunate as they’re a classy style.”

            “They are.”

            “My name is Thomas Harris. I’m-”

            “You’re Hannibal Lecter’s bodyguard,” Francis Dolarhyde interrupted. “I saw you the day you saved his life.”

            Will imagined him with a baseball cap tucked over his high-and-tight haircut, and Will nodded somberly. “I think everyone did. Bad luck and bad machinery, I’d say.”

            “It’s what happens when you buy cheap,” Francis said. “I told my boss to get better clamps, but I don’t make the rules here.”

            He had a mild lisp that he covered with a quick jerk of his hand over his mouth. His voice softened around it, and his gaze narrowed in embarrassment.

            “You’re in maintenance?”

            “Just started a couple of months ago.”

            “Same. Lucky he allowed me to stick around, otherwise he’d be paste.”

            Dolarhyde thought it was hysterical, imagining Hannibal as paste. He didn’t outright laugh, but the way the skin tightened around his eyes, followed by a curt huff of breath that was quickly stopped, revealed as much. Will watched the quick twitches and shifts in his gaze and smiled.

            “I’ll see you around then.” He skirted around Dolarhyde and was starting to leave before he glanced back. Dolarhyde was still watching him. “Sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”

            “I didn’t give it to you.”

            Will smiled. “I see. I don’t suppose you’ll give it to me?”

            Francis’ mouth twisted like he’d tasted something bitter. “What for?”

            “That’s usually how friendships start. One person lusts after a car, they make friends with the owner in hopes that in six months they’re allowed to drive it once or twice.”

            At that, Francis did smile, something small and discreet enough to hardly shift the harsh planes of his face. His lips turned up, though, and that was a bonus. “My name is Anthony Dimmond.”

            “A pleasure to meet you, Anthony. I’ll see you around.”

            “You will.”

            Will left, and it was only when he’d reached a safe distance that he glanced back. The alleged ‘Anthony Dimmond’ was on his phone with his back to Will, crouched down just enough that he could feel along the underbelly of the car –likely checking for a tracker. Luckily, he didn’t notice the air slowly, lazily, escaping his tire, and if Will had played his cards right, he wouldn’t notice until it was time to follow Will and Hannibal home.

            At which point, a flat tire would be a mighty big pain in the ass.

-

May 4, 2017

            “He’s on the move?”

            “On the move,” Will confirmed. He thought to mention that he’d spoken with Francis Dolarhyde –after a moment of weighing and assessing, he ultimately decided not to. The fact that he’d already been able to engage in verbal sparring with the guy he was ultimately going to kill meant quite a few things:

            First: Francis Dolarhyde was more than aware that Will Graham was not just a normal bodyguard.

            Second: If he was going to act, it was soon.

            Third: This was the most fun that Will had had in quite some time.

            He still felt it, the adrenaline that always arose when scenting out competition. If he told Jack, Jack would want to send reinforcements, backup, and somehow the fun would end with it as easy as that. That aside, if Dolarhyde thought that backup was coming, he could get spooked just enough to disappear, and then where would they be? No, no; Will could handle it better alone. He’d always had that need, that drive as he looked over people and saw them for what they really were.

            Francis Dolarhyde was ultimately an unstable, calculating monster. It was going to be a lovely time hunting him down.

            “What’s his angle?”

            “He’s the maintenance worker that almost killed the target.”

            Jack swore savagely, and Will strolled along the backyard, checking out the perimeter. There was nothing unusual out; he casually lit a cigarette and took a drag, Thomas Harris’ only true vice according to Hannibal –this was said with affection and a tender tone to the way he curled his consonants.

            “So he’s not playing around.”

            “No one is playing around.”

            “Lecter’s computer files?”

            “Hell, Jack, I told you; clean. The man is clean. He made friends with the wrong guy, made a mistake and took some drugs, next thing you know he’s coming to with Verger eating his own face. The man only sips wine with a nice meal pairing to go with it.”

            “I need an excuse to pull you out,” said Jack. “I need an excuse for you to have some time alone to go and track Dolarhyde down. Get this taken care of, nice and easy. If you get him alive, we could question him and get a hit on his bosses, too. Do a raid of their location, everyone comes out happy.”

            Will liked the idea of hunting Dolarhyde –The Great Red Dragon was a very, very wanted man, according to the three inches of paperwork in his dossier.

            “I can take him out,” he said. “Give me an angle.”

            “Get ahold of Bloom and use her as a distraction.”

            Will could feel the wheels grinding, his palms warming at the thought of what it’d be the squeeze the trigger on a bastard like that. “He’s the one that leaves mirror shards in victim’s eyes,” he recalled.

            “And genitalia.”                               

            “I know how I’ll do it,” Will decided, and his lips twitched into something much akin to a smile. “Hell, Jack. I know just what to do.”

Chapter Text

May 5, 2017

            Hannibal liked his dinners elegant and with just enough flare of spice on the palate to leave the tongue tingling after.

            When the plate was set before Will, he knew that this was somehow a special dinner. The figs had been cooked in Armagnac, and there was a hazelnut scent that lingered on the underpart of his tongue as he swallowed the aroma.

            A tiny bird lay, legs up and out, no bigger than the size of a small child’s fist.

            “The Ortolan,” he remembered, and he glanced across the table to Hannibal with a brow quirked. “It’s illegal, here.”

            “It’s not illegal to eat it,” Hannibal corrected with a small, secretive smile. “Merely to purchase or pay someone to catch it. It was a gift to me, so I thought to share it with you.”

            “Why the French don’t run along the fields or countryside grabbing them from the sky and gobbling them up is beyond me,” said Will, and the warm laugh encouraged him to continue, “Did you eat this in Lithuania?”

            Topics and comments on their personal histories weren’t necessarily forbidden, but they didn’t happen. Hannibal poured a glass of wine for the two of them, and he dipped his head.

            “No.”

            Hannibal Lecter was never rude, but that was normally as far as he’d go with questions such as that. Will had plans, however, and Hannibal’s gentle yet brusque way of never revealing too much was very much part of the plan.

            “What did you eat there?”

            “The same as any, I’d imagine. There is much more processing to your food here in America than in Lithuania, I will say. The level of high fructose corn syrup in most packaged food is appalling.”

            “What was your favorite home meal?” Will asked, then took a long gulp of wine.

            “You know, I haven’t thought about that,” Hannibal replied, and he shrugged aimlessly, once. It was a forced calm, though. Will could smell it.

            “Don’t you ever miss food from your childhood?”

            “Do you, Thomas?”

            “Oh, yeah…I do.”

            Hannibal’s smile wasn’t kind. “I have a suspicion that you want to share it.”

            “See, mine was Turkey Pot Pie that was always made right after Thanksgiving. One of my foster parents that I was with for, oh, I dunno; five years? Longest foster parent I had. She made that pie after every thanksgiving in order to get rid of the thirty pounds of turkey meat she was left with after inevitably every single extended family member magically didn’t come to dinner. It was delicious. The salt in it…just the right amount of tears from the food she’d slaved over.”

            Hannibal stared at him placidly, and Will wiped his mouth with the napkin, setting the wine glass down. It was easy to feign anger; anger was an emotion that was quick to the trigger. It was even easier, still, to goad Hannibal when he knew that his past was a dark topic.

            “I wonder at your collection of dismal family memories if that was your favorite meal,” Hannibal observed. “Was your favorite game of catch with another child’s father?”

            “You bet.”

            “It was not so for me,” Hannibal assured him flatly. “Don’t worry and suppose that we have that in common.”

            “Was it just the acting that brought you to America?”

            “Among other things.”

            “Things like?” Will pressed. At Hannibal’s inscrutable stare, he laughed shortly and pressed, “School? Money? Job opportunities?”

            “Something on your mind, Thomas?” Hannibal asked mildly. The wineglass just to the right of his plate sat untouched, and his hands were clasped politely in front of him on the table.

            “I was just…realizing that we really don’t know that much about one another,” said Will. “When I was first hired, I looked at your background. Your parents were only lightly involved politically, but there is absolutely nothing about them on record. A birthday, a deathday, and your name in a boarding school in France until you moved to the states.”

            “Snooping, Thomas?”

            “We know nothing about one another.”

            Hannibal tilted his head. “Do we need to?”

            “Normally, the longer two people share space, the more they begin to confide in one another.”

            Silence rested between a small dish for a balsamic-based dressing and a small bowl of coarsely ground salt. Will scratched at an itch on his hand, and he counted the stitches in the tablecloth as he waited with bated breath.

            “I thought that the appeal was that we were just fucking.”

            That took Will aback, and he stared for a moment, processing. Was it so easily made casual for Hannibal, too? Was this just a convenient affair until something more entertaining came along? No, no; he’d noticed Hannibal gazing at him. He’d noticed his attentions and how they lingered. Surely not, but…? He must have miscalculated somewhere -Hannibal’s attachment was superficial. It wasn’t fear of sharing the past that prevented him, but rather indifference instead. It did make it easier, in truth, that it was supposedly ‘just fucking’.

            And yet…

            “You…don’t want to know me?” he asked, resenting just how genuinely tentative he sounded.  “It’s just…fucking to you?”

            “We must have misunderstood one another somewhere along the way,” Hannibal realized. Mild embarrassment was a dusting of red on his cheeks, the same color as when he was a breath from release. He’d kept the lamps dim, but Will had studied his face in an effort to understand what made him come undone. It was then that Hannibal took a sip of wine, and Will looked away from him furiously.

            “We did,” he agreed, and he stood up, tossing his napkin down. “Why else would you see me when no one else does?”

            “You’re an attractive man. Of course I saw you.”

            “Right,” Will agreed, and he slid his chair to the table with undue force. “Right.

            Hannibal watched him from beneath eyes at half-mast as he sipped his wine. Will thought of the look he’d given him when they went crashing through sugared glass, something hungry and primal, like he was prepared to bite. Now, his face was pleasantly amicable, a wall that he’d drawn up around himself with just enough practice to sting. Will thought of his lists and observations of Hannibal, trying to find out where he’d messed up. Surely Hannibal’s behaviors had indicated real affection? Surely this was just a front?

            “I’ve upset you,” he noted as Will pulled his jacket on. “Are you very angry, dear Thomas?”

            Somehow, the term of endearment was especially sore.

            “I’m leaving.”

            “Are you quitting?”

            “You’d like that,” Will sneered, and he headed towards the doorway to leave. “I’m taking tomorrow off. I need to clear my head.”

            “Please do,” Hannibal urged. As Will crested the doorway, he asked, “Is it too much for me to ask you to eat this meal with me?”

            A strangled noise escaped Will’s lips, and he stalked back to the table, scooping the bird up and holding it aloft. It was ugly and weak, held in his hand like that. It mattered nothing the care made to make it so delicious; in the end, it died as they all did.

            “The Ortolan,” he recalled in a low growl, “is consumed with your head placed beneath a napkin to hide your shame from God. It’s just fucking, but you cooked a fucking Ortolan for the one-month anniversary of the day that we first fucked. You’re unbelievable.”

            In one bite, he tilted his head back and gulped down all but the feet, bone crushing against bone as he swallowed organs and flesh and blood. The exotic flavors trickled down his throat, coupled with blood from the rib cage that caught the tender flesh of his mouth. With a savage snarl he tossed the feet onto the plate alongside the artfully placed figs and ignored the wide-eyed and -if he was being entirely honest -aroused expression on his counterpart.

            “Good night,” said Will, and he stormed out.

            He allowed his expression to show raw, genuine anger all the way down the hall, out of the front door, and to his car. Once outside of the stone walls of Hannibal Lecter’s swanky Beverly Hill’s Home, it was only then that he let his muscles relax. He stretched his face and softened his expression to his normally dour apathy. With that out of the way, it gave Thomas Harris a perfectly good reason not to be at work protecting the legendary Hannibal Lecter.

            Which would give Will Graham the perfect opportunity to put a bullet right at the base of The Great Red Dragon’s neck when he drew him out.

            It would make Hannibal mildly manipulatable, though, if Will’s gut was still right. There was the unease that Will had maybe miscalculated Hannibal’s affections, but the actions belied his words: no one cooked something as gracefully dark as an Ortolan for a one-month anniversary if it was just fucking.

            Will tried very, very hard to pretend that the tendrils of hurt were the aftermath of over-acting rather than the true sting of rejection. He had a job to do. He wasn’t going to let thoughts of Hannibal pervade his mind and muck anything up.

            Love was a necessity when one was a Ghost Agent, but it could only be properly used as a weapon pointed against the target, not Will Graham.

-

May 6, 2017

            “Do you want to talk about it?” Alana asked into the earpiece. “You looked like shit this morning.”

            “No,” said Will irritably, and he checked his scope, tuning the dial to the right one click.

            “I’ve never seen you this unsociable before.”

            “I can’t always be ‘on’, you know. There is the Will Graham that is Will Graham when he isn’t pretending to be everyone else,” he groused. Even so, this wasn’t quite that Will Graham, which was to say that that Will Graham had the propensity to be even more unsociable than the one he was being at this moment.

            “Was it bad?” Alana asked unsympathetically. “Hannibal has teeth too you know.”

            “Everything went according to plan.”

            “It must have been one hell of a fight.”

            In truth, it’d lasted maybe five minutes; five minutes that had left Will a tad more shaken than he’d originally believed possible, considering his original calculations. He’d been off somewhere, though; he wasn’t sure if he was off regarding his original constitution in resisting attraction or if he was off in Hannibal feigning genuine affection. Given the way of Will Graham’s mind, he was normally more than capable of reflecting the emotions around him so that the people witnessing his behavior thought him to be genuine in every way.

            To have missed that he may have been more attracted to Hannibal than he thought was a disaster, to say the least. When had it stopped being the reflections of Hannibal’s emotions and instead became Will’s entirely?

            “I’ll tell you when I see him. He’s been more aggressive in his following the target today since I’m not there,” said Will, changing the subject. He didn’t want to talk about the way he thought. He didn’t want to think about the way he’d thought. He’d miscalculated. It happened.

            But that God Damn Ortolan, though…

            “You know I think this is a terrible plan,” Alana said, and she flipped her hair over her shoulder, the sunlight catching the color as iridescent as raven’s wings. Will counted the posts supporting the chain link fence that she walked alongside, then counted the cracks in the walk.

            “He won’t hurt you; you’re a little too high profile.”

            “I’m not worried about me, but what about Hannibal? He doesn’t even know that he’s being followed.”

            “He’s gone to all of his regular appointments. He’ll be heading home within the hour.” After a beat, he added, “It’ll work, Alana.”

“I think you’re miscalculating what Dolarhyde’s going to do if he thinks you’ve really abandoned your charge.”

            “I didn’t miscalculate,” Will ground out into the mic. “I don’t know why everyone thinks I’ve miscalculated.”

            “Who else thinks you miscalculated?” Alana asked, confused. “What?”

            Will bit back a sharp retort and scanned along ahead of her to look for Dolarhyde. He thought of the affable and kindly indifferent expression on Hannibal’s face as Will clumsily pressed for personal information. He knew stonewall faces when he saw them -Will was well aware that he wouldn’t have been able to pry anything from him at that point.

            “Will?”

            “Nothing, I didn’t sleep well,” he groused. “Got him. On your six, headed towards the parking lot.”

            Alana marked Dolarhyde who strode with purpose, and Will tracked her towards him through his scope. She wobbled unsteadily on her heels, then quite suddenly tripped; she fell with graceful purpose into him, and like a gentleman Francis Dolarhyde caught her.

            “Oh, I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed, and the laugh that followed was warm. “I’ve been told that these are dangerous to wear.”

            “S’alright,” he replied, and he righted her. “S’cuse me.”

            “You’re…Anthony Dimmond, aren’t you?”

            Dolarhyde paused and looked to her, and through the scope Will could see his features darken.

            “Who told you that?”

            “You’re doing great, Alana, but there’s still thirty seconds until the cover passes by. Take a half-step to your left so that I have a clear shot.”

            “My friend, Thomas. I saw you talking to him, and…well, I bugged him about it, honestly. I’m Alana Bloom.”

            “I know who you are,” Dolarhyde retorted sharply. “Thomas Harris?”

            Alana took a small half-step to the left and flipped her hair over her shoulder, smiling. “Yes, that’s him.”

            Will’s phone buzzed in his utility pocket, and he glanced to his watch. Hannibal.

            “That’s the right spot,” he said as Alana drifted to a stop. Then, “Hannibal?”

            Will’s comm mic was muted as he switched over to Bluetooth. He heard the soft, leisurely gait of Hannibal’s polished leather shoes on tile, as well as the echoing din of workers around him.

            “Thomas,” he said, and something in his voice made the hair on the back of Will’s neck stand on end. “Thank you for answering despite it being your day off.”

            “I just met him the once,” Dolarhyde said. It crackled in the background and reverberated in Alana’s sensitive mic. “You saw that?”

            “Hannibal, I’m going to have to call you back,” Will murmured, and he counted silently, glancing to his watch to mark the seconds. He needed the cover, otherwise there’d be witnesses to the shooting.

            “Yeah, just the tail end, but it was…enough.” There was a soft allure to her voice, something suggestive without suggesting anything at all. Will glanced to his watch again, mouthing along to the time.

            “I miss eggs and sausage the most from my childhood,” Hannibal said into the phone. “I’m aware of its simplicity, but it’s…the last meal I ever ate with my family.”

            Will paused, a breath away from saying goodbye to hang up. Dolarhyde attempted to circle Alana, and they faced off from one another, something in Red Dragon’s shoulders that said he was soon to lunge. Will adjusted his shoulders and blinked lazily, setting the sights right in the sweet spot as he took the rifle off of safe.

            “That you remember me, even now,” Dolarhyde clarified. “Stunned so much as you were by this…physical appearance.”

            “Hannibal-”

            “My parents advocated against the growing mafia problem across the country as politicians, you see,” he continued, interrupting Will. “There were several fighting factions that wanted run of everything they could get their hands on. When they made a man nicknamed ‘Agurkas’ angry, they were killed, along with my younger sister. They’d been planning on making cepelinai that night for all of us, but that never came to be. I haven’t had a taste for it since.”

            Will could see the people carrying the large sign walking with purpose in Alana’s direction. They weren’t quite sure what they were being witness to, only that they needed to have a certain sign at a certain place within a certain amount of time. Will hadn’t miscalculated.

            Hearing Hannibal like this, he knew he hadn’t fucking miscalculated.

            “When I first came into my inheritance, I paid to have all records of what happened stripped from any documents. I didn’t want them remembered that way, murdered for their ideals of a safer Lithuania.”

            “Hannibal,” Will tried again, softer. “I’m…sorry that I pressured you. It was unfair of me. But I…I have to call you back.”

            “I think I’ve made you uncomfortable,” Alana said gently. “I’m sorry, I’ll leave you alone.”

            “What if I don’t want you to leave me alone?” Francis Dolarhyde queried, his mouth tugged into a snarl. “What if I’m not finished yet?”

            “Thomas, I’m being followed,” Hannibal revealed, and it was ice down Will’s back, shocking and painful as it settled.

            “Where are you? When did you realize this?”

            “I’m no fool; even if it was for ransom, they normally still murder the abducted. I simply wanted to tell you something about myself before I’m unable to any longer. You were trying to open up last night, but I was stubborn and refused to take the opportunity when it was given.”

            “Where are you now?” Will demanded, and he didn’t quite take the pains to soften his voice into the demure façade of his false identity. He felt cold all over, tingling.

            He glared down his scope at Dolarhyde and furiously waited for the right second.

            “I’m in a bathroom now.”

            “They’ll take you from there,” Will informed him, and he glanced from the cover to Dolarhyde. Alana’s voice was muffled in his ear as she adjusted her scarf. “Do you realize that?”

            “I just wanted to call you and tell you what was happening,” Hannibal replied. “You didn’t say you were quitting, so I thought to pass along the concern to my bodyguard.”

            “Hannibal, do you still have the coin I gave you two weeks and a day ago?”

            Hannibal’s low, taut voice softened for the briefest moments in surprise. “I do.”

            “Put it in your sock. They won’t make you turn out your socks, and that’s how I’m going to find you. Do you understand?”

            He heard the general shuffling of the mic against Hannibal’s clothing as he adjusted. Alana jutted her chin up to Dolarhyde, and Dolarhyde leaned down to her, whispering.

            “Do you understand that, Hannibal?” he repeated, sharper. “Do you trust that I’m going to find you?”

            “I do, actually,” Hannibal replied, and Will believed him. “Also, Thomas, you should know; the night that I was with Mason Verger, I-”

            Will heard the bathroom door slam open, followed by the sound of Hannibal’s shout and the heavy thud of something connecting with his skull. The phone clattered to the floor, and when the line went dead Will furiously ended the call, his heartbeat pounding just behind his eye.

            They’d gotten to Hannibal. He’d miscalculated.

            At the precise moment that he moved to squeeze the trigger to end Dolarhyde, several things happened at once:

            The two men carrying the sign both dropped it in favor of turning and shooting one another in the head simultaneously.

            Dolarhyde twisted and grabbed Alana, turning the two of them so that she posed as a shield between him and Will.

            “Ghost Agent,” Dolarhyde said into the transparent mic at Alana’s neck. “Looks like you made a bad call.”

            Will swallowed heavily and took his finger off of the trigger guard. “You’re going to be okay, Alana,” he coached her, quiet. “Tell him you’ll either translate, or he’ll have to take the earpiece.”

            Alana reiterated Will’s words, and after a moment Francis snatched the ear piece from her ear, tucking it into his own.

            “I paid each of your men enough money that they were fine with committing murder and treason,” he informed Will gleefully.

            “Naturally, both were unknowing of the other’s deal with you.”

            “We’ve got Lecter. You miscalculated, Ghost Agent.”

            Will muted his mic just in time to hiss, “I didn’t fucking miscalcu-”

            “If you turn yourself over to me, I’ll make sure he lives from the mob’s…punishment,” Dolarhyde continued. “Otherwise, he’s…as they call it, ‘food for the fishes’.”

            Will unmuted the mic. “I’ll offer a deal, too, Dimmond,” he murmured, and he watched Dolarhyde’s head cock to the side, intrigued. “You hand Hannibal back over, and I won’t shoot your fingers off of your left hand.”

            He didn’t wait for Dolarhyde to reply. Will exhaled, and he squeezed the trigger, his eyes wide open as he watched the bullet follow through. He’d accounted well enough for the wind; it took his middle finger and his pointer finger off cleanly, pressed against his ear as they were to better hear Will. He calmly ejected the cartridge and loaded once more to finish the job.

            As Dolarhyde howled in fury, Alana ducked and sprinted to the main courtyard of their set-up, towards the public and its potential safety. Dolarhyde lifted his other arm up, furious eyes intent on Alana’s back; bam. Will shot the gun from his hand, and Dolarhyde stumbled back. He ejected another cartridge and loaded once more.

            Someone screamed just down the small alley, and Will heard several doors slamming shut as people came to investigate. As Alana ran to safety, Dolarhyde sprinted away from prying eyes, forgetting his gun as he sought to disappear as quickly as possible. This wasn’t the sort of place for a shootout; Dolarhyde wasn’t prepared for a knock down drag out. Will tracked his running through the scope, but he couldn’t quite get a clear shot; he exhaled sharply and removed his finger from the trigger.

            Then time caught up.

            Will went immediately to autopilot as he put his rifle away and disguised it beneath a well-fluffed and used gym bag. He took the steps down from the rooftop two at a time and blended in just in time with the small group of stunt doubles that clustered towards the exits, matching as they were in their track jackets and Adidas pants. Will nodded and furrowed his brow, listening to their whispering as they wondered just what’d happened that left people screaming.

            He broke from their huddle as they turned a corner, and he made for the rendezvous point, keeping his head turned away from people pulling out their camera phones to snap photos of the bodies. Their bright white sign was sullied by their blood, stained by their betrayals. He should have screened them better, ensured they wouldn’t fold beneath money. Once again, he’d fucking miscalculated.

            Alana let him into the passenger seat, and they peeled away furiously.

            “Did the thought occur to you that something like that was letting things get way too out of control?” she asked coldly.

            “They have Hannibal.”

            “I heard.”

            “I have to get Hannibal back, Alana,” said Will, and he turned his plans over in his head as his hands fumbled for his phone, unlocking it.

            “It’d probably look bad if you somehow managed to get a famous philanthropist murdered. Crawford would probably mount your head on the wall.”

            “It’d make for good dinner conversation,” he muttered in reply, and he studied the GPS from the coin. “The head on the wall, I mean, not the dead philanthropist.”

“I figured as much.”

“I’ve got a bead on him. I just need a few things at the house and we can go.”

            “Oh, no, not we,” Alana said, although she took the exit that’d put her on track to Hannibal’s house anyway. “I did my part. This isn’t my job.”

            “I just need-”

            “Have you even called your handler yet to tell him what’s happened?” she demanded, “Or are you just reacting because you’re afraid that -oh my God, Will, you’re afraid for Hannibal.”

            He didn’t answer for at least three blocks of traffic. At a red light, he let out a slow, uneven breath and counted the windows on the store front beside them.

            “I miscalculated,” he said miserably. “And if I wait for Crawford to send the real backup, it’ll be too late. We’ll get the guys, but we won’t save Hannibal in time.”

            At the next red light, Alana looked over at him and frowned. He wondered at her being able to wholly put herself in his position, less pity in her expression and something more along the lines of mercy. She eased onto the gas when the light turned green, and she patted his arm lightly, once.

            “I won’t say it,” she began.

            “Then don’t.”

            “I’ll get you where you need to go, Will, but I won’t go in with you. Margot would kill me if she found out.”

            It was more than he felt he deserved, sitting there and thinking about Hannibal’s last meal that he’d ever had with his family. He’d miscalculated. He thought he was detached, but he wasn’t. It let a lack of objectivity get in the way, and there they fucking were. Will would gather his things, kill anyone that got in his way, and he’d retrieve the objective. Then he’d kill himself off, and Hannibal would never have to worry about someone like him again.

            It didn’t sound so nice when he said it, that time.

            “I know you don’t talk about your past, Will, and I get it; you’re a Ghost Agent,” Alana said. “But do…agents like you ever actually fall in love? Or is it always just an act?”

            “My job entails taking a mirror and holding it up between myself and some of the ugliest people in the world, Alana,” Will replied, and he stared out of the window. He counted streetlamps as they blurred by. “It keeps everyone safe when everything is an act.”

            “You know, those mirrors can reflect some of the best in you, too. It doesn’t just have to be the worst.”

            “It does if I’m doing my job right.”

            “You can…care about people, though,” said Alana, and it was finally then that the look was piteous. “I know you have real empathy, although you do your best to hide it. I think you probably have it worse off than most.”

            How she picked up on something like that, Will couldn’t say, therefore; he didn’t. The look he gave her was just as dour and unfeeling as it generally was when he wasn’t acting, and her embarrassment as she kept her eyes on the road was as palpable as the residue from a price sticker at Ross that’d been left on the item for far too long.

            She let the silence sit after that. Will fiddled with the radio dials and played a station that was torn between new-age dance hall music coupled with static. Alana turned it to country, listened for half of a song, then changed it to a modern pop station. Will counted the beats in every measure of music.

            “The first person that got in your head must have really messed you up,” she commented as they rolled to a stop just outside of Hannibal’s house. “I think it was like that long before Crawford ever took you and made you feel like you were better off alone.”

            “You’re not wrong,” he said, and he glanced back behind her. No tail. It wasn’t Will they were after, after all. They wanted Hannibal. “Thank you, Alana.”

            Alana nodded, and her smile was sad. “I thought seeing a more human side to you would…somehow endear you to me and make me feel like you were more of a person than a…a…”

            “A ghost?”

            “Yeah, a ghost. But this…I won’t lie, Will. It’s a little scary.”

            Will didn’t suppose he was one to determine just how terrifying his visage was, but he saw himself back into Hannibal’s house regardless of how scared Alana was of him. The small arsenal of weaponry he had beneath his bed in his room would aid him in the challenge to come, and the solid green light that sat still on the GPS bolstered him, reassured him that everything was going to be alright.

            He’d miscalculated, but the job wasn’t over yet.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5:

May 7, 2017

1:03 A.M.

            Will watched the comings and goings of the warehouse just across the street from him, and he took a long drag from his cigarette.

            It was a simple warehouse, in truth; inside, he was sure that he’d find all manner of things that a warehouse often housed, such as boxes, closets, and cleaning supplies. Maybe he’d stumble across a run-down office containing a disgruntled and nicotine-ridden manager of sorts. Surely there was a small card table where the manual laborers relaxed.

            A back room where they held hostages when it was convenient.

            The cigarette was part of the act, of course. He was dressed in non-descript black jeans, a black t-shirt, and a black jacket. A baseball cap kept most of his curls at bay, and when someone strolled by with their beau, he made sure to hunker down into the jacket as he turned away from the wind and tapped ash from the cherry-red tip. He’d never cared for them, but just down the road someone else dressed much like him did much the same thing as they loitered outside of a tavern. He was just another man in passing, waiting out in the muggy night air until he could get back inside where the beer was cold and the girls were drunk.

            He tracked another car that was admitted into the warehouse via a half-lifted garage door, then he counted. At thirty seconds, he tossed the butt of the cigarette into the small ashtray receptacle on top of a trash can, and he crossed the street with his head ducked.

            According to his GPS, Hannibal had moved from the far back corner of the warehouse to the main center of it at approximately 8:24 P.M. He wasn’t sure why he’d been moved, but he took it as a sign that they were either waiting for a specific car, or he’d given them trouble.

            Judging by the sharpness of Hannibal’s teeth, Will would bet his career that he’d given them trouble.

            The fire escape ladder on the adjoining warehouse was climbed with nary a sound, and Will relished at the ease in which he dispatched the guard up top. He’d been watching him for the last hour, how he paced and wandered about, bored. He’d taken a call while he kept watch; he’d played a game on his phone. The knife across his throat was potentially overkill, considering what Will could have had him charged with instead, but enough time watching that blinking dot on his phone took away what little self-control that he felt that he had at the moment. Why bring someone in if they could die, instead?

            Still, though; Alana’s words clung to him as he tucked the dead body away into the shadows and put the man’s earpiece into his ear. You probably have it worse off than most.

            She’d meant the empathy, of course, but he did his best to fastidiously think of those whose lives were far worse than his. He’d rescued hostages from sex-trafficking rings, he’d assassinated men whose wallets housed enough stolen cash to feed a third-world country twelve times over; he’d gone undercover into a mafia much like the one he was currently up against and faced down moguls whose blackmail and extortion against politicians kept the rich, rich and the poor, poor. He didn’t have it worse off than most.

            He didn’t have feelings for Hannibal.

            “Boss in route yet?” someone asked in the earpiece.

            “No.”

            “I gotta piss,” they needled, annoyed.

            “Hold your fucking position till he’s here,” the man in charge snapped into the earpiece. “Piss off the balcony, I don’t care.”

            “I’ll fucking hold you to that.”

            He listened to the idle griping and chatter as he took his rifle from his backpack and set it up, glaring down the barrel of it through the scope. The man that’d wanted to piss stood with his back to Will, peeing off of the balcony.

            The shot right at the base of his neck was an instant-kill. He faltered, then crumpled and lay where he’d been shot, still as death.

            “You pissing yet?”

            “Yeah,” Will grunted into the mic.

            “Sick fuck,” the man snickered, and Will heard the din of laughter in the background. “No one fucking walk back over there unless you wanna walk in piss.”

            “That’s his name, that’s his name! Pisser!”

            There was a collection of laughter, and Will grunted under his breath as the laughter grew.

            He tucked his rifle away and continued on.

            He didn’t mind walking along where the man had died, simply because he knew that no one else would bother. He crept with his back to the wall; it was blood, not urine that he had to step around to avoid, thankfully. Will did so and only had to pick the outer lock in order to make his way inside, ducking between two pallets.

            Hannibal sat tied to a chair, expression remarkably calm despite being captive.

            “ –igure about fifteen minutes out,” someone said from a desk tucked into the corner. Several computers and laptops were set up, wires in a jumbled tangle beneath the table, and Will counted the number of bodies that milled about aimlessly, guns drawn. It wasn’t the best of circumstances, fourteen against one; he’d had worse, though.

            Much worse.

            “Shit, why’s he want to stick it to this fucker so bad in person?” a guy asked, milling about Lecter. “I mean, look at the fucker. Could have had him killed and gone hours ago.”

            “Orders,” Dolarhyde barked.

            Will paid special attention to where he was and how he was standing. There was something in how cold he’d been, taunting Will, that made him hungry. He wondered if Red Dragon was hungry, too. Careful hands fumbled with the electronic device at his side, and he glanced down to the program that he’d installed into their computer systems. He couldn’t quite take credit to its genius, although it was useful in hacking into places that he had no business being. Once Dolarhyde’s back was turned to Will, he tapped a button on the device and tucked it into an inner pocket of his jacket.

            The lights in the warehouse went out, and an alarm began to sound.

            “CODE RED!”

            “GET THOSE FUCKING LIGHTS ON, YOU -”

            “WHAT THE FUCK-”

            “IT’S THAT AGENT! SWEAR TO FUCK, IT’S THAT-”

            “GET LECTER, OR I’LL-”

            Low, piercing red lights began to flash in the warehouse; Will took it in stride as he leapt over the boxes and withdrew his pistol, the suppressor on it barely heard over the din of furious panic. He always hated how movies made them seem silenced, the perfect killers. Suppressors weren’t the perfect killers –Ghost Agents were. As one man turned to run, he put a bullet in the head of the person just past him and struck the man running to him just hard enough in the throat to collapse his trachea. A honking gasp left the man, and a bullet closely followed.

            A flash of red light: bang.

            A flash of red light: bang.

            He reached Lecter the same time that an unsuspecting man did: bang.

            “Can you walk?” he asked, crouched low behind the chair. His heartbeat was calm and level, although his palms tingled with excitement.

            Despite the panic of the situation, Hannibal Lecter seemed remarkably calm. “Yes.”

            “You’re going to follow directly behind me and do exactly as I say,” Will ordered, untying the knots. They were a complex fisherman’s knot, and it struck Will as odd that of all the knots to use, Francis Dolarhyde would use a fisherman’s knot to subdue Hannibal Lecter.

            “Yes.”

            “We’ve likely got thirty seconds. The moment we’re hidden, I want you to run. Do not outpace me. Do not fall behind.”

            The bonds came loose, and the red light flashing gave the hollows on Lecter’s face a demonic sneer. “Lead the way.”

            The dash back to cover was not done with the same ease. Lithuanian men were stumbling over their comrades bodies, and an odd sort of panic seemed to break out. Bullets screamed in the warehouse, the crack of guns firing burning in Will’s ears and making them ring. Someone let out a shout over the din and fell in front of Will, choking on his own blood. Will shot him in the head and led Hannibal out a different way.

            Outside, the air was cool. Will took in a gulp of it and slunk along the shadows of the warehouse wall, the echoing din inside ricocheting against one ear while the quiet of the night pressed harshly against the other. None of the bodies he’d seen drop were Dolarhyde’s. He still had Dolarhyde to contend with.

            “Thomas-”

            “Hush,” Will replied, curt. “We’re not out of it, yet.”

            Lights were blazing between warehouses now that the alarm had rung out. He could see people stumbling with dismay over the body of the man that’d just wanted to take a piss, and more shouting could be heard in the close distance. Will’s eyes darted about, and he took a sharp turn down an alley between two office buildings south of the thick of the mess, an orange and flickering light their only companion. His feet sunk into mildewed earth, and his nose stung from the tang. Likely stray dogs had made that place their shithole.

            They were just coming out of the alley when they were stopped by Dolarhyde whose calm and amiable expression belied the gun that he held in his hand.

            “Lower your weapon,” Red Dragon said calmly.

            “Lower yours,” said Will.

            “You’ve something to protect, and I don’t,” Red Dragon remarked. “You are at a disadvantage.”

            “The program that I used to hack the controls of the warehouse will have sent a beacon to my location. You know that we have at least four minutes before backup arrives.”

            “I don’t need four minutes to kill you.”

            “Thankfully. The Great Red Dragon taking so long to end a life would be the laughingstock of the underground, should it get out.”

            Somehow, the quiet in the alley was more deafening than the sounds surrounding it. Pressure made his bones substantial against in his skin. His skin was a suit, nothing more, an act because this was his job, and he was doing it well. Staring Dolarhyde down, blood humming, Will felt cut away from the world. A predator and his prey.

            A predator and his prey.

            “Your man is an animal; did he tell you?” Dolarhyde’s smile was savagely cold. “He bit the ear off of one of the men. We were thinking of putting a muzzle on him. Like a dog.”

            “How’s the hand?”

            It was bandaged, and the sneer turned ugly, savage. “Will Graham,” Dolarhyde recited, “the only Ghost Agent never captured by photograph. Are you going to try and kill the Great, Red Dragon with a gun?”

            “Do you think yourself bulletproof?” Will taunted, quiet.

            Red Dragon’s laugh wasn’t something monstrous yet somehow more unnerving for it. Will wondered if he laughed much the same when he pressed mirror shards to the eyes of his victims. “This is too easy,” Red Dragon chided, and it sounded like a personal joke, just for the two of them. “They’re going to make this a sacrificial clean-up, aren’t they?”

            “What makes you think that?”

            “Will Graham, Ghost Agent of the FBI, dies tragically rescuing a philanthropist and found DOA beside a subdued John Doe who will either later be tried for their crimes with their real name and criminal history exposed, or the body will never be found. Lost paperwork.”

            Will thought of the thick dossier he’d consumed during late night pacing long after Hannibal had retired to bed. “The body would never be found.”

            Red Dragon tilted his head. “You know know best.”

            “He’s a celebrity. They’ll want me alive to answer questions. No self-sacrificial orders.”

            “Missions and agents both have expiration dates. Who knows if you’ve been photographed?”

            Just behind Will, Hannibal stood a hair taller and a hair quieter. Will thought of how calmly he’d called, prepared to die but not wanting to die unknown by someone.

            “I’ve photographed you,” Will replied. “Mostly your smile.”

            And then Red Dragon roared.

            Among the many pages of the three inches of history within The Great Red Dragon’s dossier was a secret, one only few people knew and of those people most were dead. Will knew the secret, though, knew it in the way he shifted to cover his mouth as he lisped beside his Bentley, knew it in the way he all but attacked Alana for daring to suppose him attractive, knew it in the way he could not quite meet Will’s eyes despite the advantage he now held.

            And that was something Will wasn’t impervious to because that was the thick of it, through and through within his field of work that would always be his success as well as his undoing, the driving force behind why maybe being a Ghost Agent wasn’t the healthiest way to cope with the reflections abound in his mind:

            Projecting the behaviors of the FBI’s Most Wanted didn’t necessarily protect him from internalizing some aspects of the monsters he hunted.

            And now he was a predator that’d caught its prey.

            Guns weren’t intimate enough for The Great Red Dragon. Without thought, he threw Hannibal back and to the side with just enough time to take the brunt of a tackle that sucked breath from his lungs and made stars nauseate his vision.

            He blinked, and everything clicked into place.

            This was his element, this place of violence. He rolled with the assault, taking an elbow to the collarbone but managing to land on top. Dolarhyde lifted his legs in an attempt to wrap them around his neck, low growls issuing from his mouth, and through Will’s starstruck eyes it was as though smoke was issuing from his lips, and this, this was what he was waiting for.

            He’d told Alana it was like taking a mirror and holding it between himself and the rest of the world. It wasn’t quite true, though, was it? Not in the way he slipped so seamlessly into violence, elbow to the soft spot of his thigh, boot in the gut to slip to safety. If he was caught in a chokehold, he was dead. Between one blink to the next, registered and understood, he took that information and became.

           They struggled, broke apart, then again, blow after blow that was met with a violent resistance, a need to survive, and he wasn’t going to wait for the FBI to get there, was he?

            No. No, he wasn’t.

            But Red Dragon was still bigger, and Red Dragon had a punch that made Will’s breath catch whenever it landed, and Red Dragon had a reach that Will barely managed to evade. He stepped with him, though, and there was something violent about the dance of it, synchronized and entirely not.

           Then, there –yes! He managed a hit to the throat that sent Red Dragon staggering to his knees, but that didn’t give him time to account for the gun fired from a flailing angle.

            And then his mouth was on fire.

            Will Graham had been shot in his day. He’d been stabbed, burned, beaten, drowned, tortured, tossed twelve ways to Wednesday, and most definitely shot. There was something to this, a learning moment that happened as a raging pain erupted along his face, and logic said pressing his hand to the wound wouldn’t help, but he did it anyway because it fucking hurt.

            Choking on his own air, Francis Dolarhyde didn’t play fair.

            And neither did Hannibal Lecter, eyes black as he stabbed the bastard in the back of the neck.

            Time is a funny thing. Despite the many claims to the contrary, it moves at the same pace, but still it is said to speed up and slow down, waver and hesitate. That is the mind, though, and the mind perceives as it processes, and it is as much its own master as time is. Trembling from adrenaline that begged him to go, go, go, hand bloodied and pressed to the gaping wound on his face, ears hollowed out from the report of the gun, Will felt time still and freeze. His heart sat frantic in his throat, but Hannibal held him fixed to the spot with that look alone, that hunger that made Will hungry, too.

            Stupidly, all he could think of was that moment in Hannibal’s basement, when Hannibal asked him if he believed the rumors.

            That you swallow your competition, bones and all?

            Francis Dolarhyde let out a ragged hiss as he died, and with him he took The Great Red Dragon.

            Will was to him in a breath, the gun removed safely from Dolarhyde’s limp hand and tucked away. In that time, Hannibal didn’t move, merely watched Will quickly and calmly ensure the bastard was truly, genuinely dead. No pulse, no life, no…prey. Will stood and looked to his charge, still wary of the knife. Had they given him something? Was it merely fear?

           Blood cast a lurid spray along his shirt, and the knife gripped capably was turned lethal, threatening. That close, Will could smell everything with clarity: the copper of blood, the tang of sweat. The sourness of the diesel in the air, the reek of wet metal from the warehouses. Something was intimate about the quiet. Will reached to take the knife from him and, after a tense, taut resistance where Hannibal didn’t fight so much as go stiff, he succeeded.

            “Don’t say a word,” said Will, only it hurt too bad to get the words out right. He slapped a hand to the hole in his cheek and hissed.

            “I should say the same for you,” Hannibal replied, and he seemed to sense the quiet, too. His voice was a mere murmur amidst the concrete and decay.

            Light flooded the piss-reeking alleyway, and Will let go of the new hole in his face to hold his hands up until the echoing din of federal officers could confirm both his and Hannibal’s identities. The knife fell from his hand as a result, not Hannibal’s, and the look Hannibal gave him –as if realizing just that –was just searing enough to sink into the soft spaces within his skull.

            And while they were ushered to where a small base of operations was being erected and Jack Crawford likely paced, Will wondered what sort of skeletons Hannibal had in his closet to slit a throat so smooth.

-

May 7, 2017

11:21 A.M.

            Will Graham sat in an interrogation room with a fresh change of clothes and a newly stitched face. It was difficult to talk, as his cheek was mostly numbed from the medic’s quick work, but he was still very much coherent, and he once again had a problem to solve:

            Hannibal Lecter wouldn’t leave the FBI.

            “They said you won’t leave until you’ve spoken with me,” he began slowly. Speech was difficult. He felt like Red Dragon only not.

            “That is correct.”

            “I’m not with PR, Hannibal.”

            “You’re also not listed within any facilities of the FBI in any public record, and the name Will Graham yields no results that match any description of yours on any public record or social media.”

            “I’m also not trauma support.”

            “You’re a Ghost Agent, yes. I’ve already signed enough paperwork to ensure that my lips are more than sealed once I leave.”

            “And?” Will pressed, impatient.

            “I have cooperated with the FBI in everything since my rescue from the thorough debriefing to the idle threats given at my mentioning you ever again.”

            “And?”

            “I gave them every ounce of information, and before this I have followed every one of your requests as my bodyguard, no matter how odd it was or how it interfered.”

            “I’m trying to see where you’re going with this,” said Will, irritably.

            “I simply wished to know if this was true, and I wished to see where that took us from here,” Hannibal finished calmly.

            Out of anything Will could have expected, this most certainly wasn’t it.

            “Nowhere,” he said blankly. “You’re going to leave, you’re going to adhere by what is a very lenient solution from the FBI considering just the danger to information you pose, and I’m going to go back to work.”

            “Which is?”

            And that was when it hit, the root of it, the reason Jack Crawford was biting a knuckle for half of the ride back while Will sat in sullen, bleeding silence:

            “Are you going to continue being my bodyguard, or are you going to have a new mission?”

            There were many conversations in his day-to-day that Will Graham hated. Human interactions were uncomfortable, abrasive when he wasn’t in some form of façade, and conversations like these were the worst of all because when Will Graham normally had to pay the piper and have them, that was usually when he died in some tragic way and never saw the target again.

            Difficult, considering Jack hadn’t just escorted him from the fucking building.

            “You’re going to go back to work, and so am I. I work here.”

            “You don’t.”

            “I don’t work for you, I work for the FBI. The FBI worked through a false agency, and the false agency informed me that you no longer were in danger from the Lithuanian Mob because coincidentally the FBI just stumbled across a rather large drug ring in the warehouse you’d been held captive in.”

            “As well as the Great Red Dragon,” Hannibal replied, sweet as syrup, “who you dispatched so cleanly rescuing me.”

            Will didn’t allow the words to sink deep. He kept them on his skin to brush away later. “The mission is finished, Hannibal,” he snapped. Then, after a beat, softer, “you’re safe now. I did my job. You can go.”

            Hannibal considered him, much the way he had before when Will had first gotten their attention on set by stealing. An estimation of something, maybe amusement, maybe mischief. Then,

            “I suppose you won’t want your canvas print of a boat back.”

            A stinging blow, but Will wasn’t used to break-ups, even fake ones. Kind of fake, kind of not. He thought of Alana and swallowed back the memory of their conversation. “I don’t.”

            Hannibal stood, and his impeccable mask of calm was fixed in place, as smooth a transition as the best of actors. Will stood with him, and he shook his hand firmly, only briefly surprised that Hannibal offered it.

            “Thank you, Will.”

            “Thomas,” Will corrected.

            “Thomas,” Hannibal echoed with a peculiar laugh. He headed to the door, speaking more to himself than Will. “As though you aren’t real.”

            Will waited until the door was closed behind him before he replied, softer than the tick of the clock, “I’m not.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 6:

May 8, 2017:

Nothing.

May 9, 2017:

Nothing.

May 10, 2017:

Nothing.

July 28, 2017:

Nothing.

October 13, 2017:

Nothing.

December 25, 2017:

Nothing.

January 1, 2018:

Nothing.

February 1, 2018:

Nothing.

March 1, 2018:

Nothing.

April 1, 2018:

Nothing.

May 1, 2018:

Nothing.

June 1, 2018:

Nothing.

July 1, 2018:

Nothing.

August 1, 2018:

Nothing.

September 1, 2018:

Nothing.

October 1, 2018:

Nothing.

November 1, 2018:

Nothing.

December 1, 2018:

Nothing.

December 31, 2018:

Nothing.

January 1, 2019:

And Time Froze.

            Will Graham died often. He died often, and nothing happened. People died, and nothing happened. Sometimes, he was commended for his work. Sometimes, he had a desire to put mirror shards in the eyes of his targets.

            He doesn’t, but sometimes he thinks about it.

            He’d told Alana it was a mirror, but it wasn’t, was it? He became, but he could become anything, and was he truly a person when he was constantly becoming something else? He thought of how Hannibal looked at him, hungry. How he’d slid that knife so smooth.

            He’d wanted to confess something about Mason Verger. Will Graham did work outside of the United States.

            Time passed, and nothing happened. Nothing happened because Will Graham was not a thing to retain information, but a thing to mirror the world around him just long enough to pass the power along. Never for himself, never himself, and nothing happened as the time passed. Will Graham wasn’t truly Will Graham. He was a ghost.

            Ghost Agents aren’t people. Will Graham never had feelings for Hannibal.

            Dying this time wasn’t anything special. It was nothing, but he knew it’d stain his ex-lover’s eyes forever, make them cry themselves to sleep. Enough they’d never know he was alive. Enough to know they’d not pry for him.

            Enough to know he’d never again exist to them.

            Despite the smell, sewers were the best of exits. Most of them were scarcely occupied by humans, and it led to avenues of quick getaways. Climbing out of the gutter and sliding out of the stained and wet jacket, he tossed it in the dumpster nearby and rounded the corner, picking up his bug-out bag.

            Standing poised before a bleeding sun and Will’s only escape, Hannibal Lecter’s knife glinted, reflected and nearly blinded Will. He paused for the briefest of moments, his mind reflecting, turning in on itself. He stood slowly and gripped the duffle bag tight, calculating.

            He couldn’t speak. He swallowed, throat tight, and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Nearly two years. Nearly two years, and Hannibal looked good.

            Hannibal had a knife in his hand. Hannibal’s hand cut throats so smooth.

            “You found me,” he said, hoarse.

            “I never lost you,” Hannibal explained calmly. “You simply kept your head down and refused to see.”

            Will held his breath just long enough to make it hurt. He exhaled slow, allowed it to burn.

            “You going to stick me with that?”

            “You were telling the truth the whole time, I think,” Hannibal said. “Bits and pieces, but true. I wondered, long after, if you had to doctor your own wounds most times, and that’s why they were so gruesome in the aftermath.”

            “I’m not going to get into a knife fight with you. I’ll subdue you and move on.”

            “I thought to throw away the hideous canvas, but it was a ship adrift at sea. It seemed somehow fitting for you.”

            “Enough, Hannibal.”

            “It was not enough,” Hannibal interrupted, curt. “It was not so near enough time as I’d have liked, and in truth, Will Graham, I don’t believe it was near enough time for you, either.”

            He tasted Ortolan and brimstone. Will bit at a dry spot on his lip, tore hard enough bleed. His grip on his bag didn’t falter, but his breath did.

            “I thought you a remarkably difficult read until I realized it wasn’t that I couldn’t read you, but that you were never quite yourself to read. I miscalculated your affections, or so I supposed until I saw what it was for you to mirror someone’s affection back onto themselves. Then, I felt rather lucky in realizing I was able to experience a genuine intimacy with you.”

            “You walk a fine line between arrogance and confidence.”

            “You’d claim what you and I shared somehow compared to the watered-down version delivered in the coffee shop to Abigail Hobbs, whose grief and anger towards her father drew her into witness protection after your death? Or your romantic interludes with Nathanial, who could not convince you to come back to bed after you’d sufficiently pleased him?”

            “If I was so unobservant I didn’t notice the third man in the room, I should retire,” said Will. It sounded far droller than he felt.

            “You’re hungry for something, aren’t you?” Hannibal asked, and there it was: that look in his eye, that hungry look that made something inside of Will hungry, too.

            “No,” Will rasped.

            “You once wanted to get to know me,” Hannibal urged, and his voice softened. It wasn’t rough, but hesitant, something smacking of vulnerability, but Will didn’t want to think of that right now. “I had thought you’d maybe like to know me still.”

            He thought about fighting the Great, Red Dragon, how Hannibal had slit his throat so smooth. How his eyes burned, and there was a set to his jaw that hinted at a protective nature, an urge to act because he wouldn’t stand the notion that Will could get hurt again.

            Will stupidly thought of Alana wondering who’d first got in his head and scrambled it all up.

            “We have to go,” he said, and he glanced to his watch.

            “Will –”

            “I’ll…I’ll talk, but we have to go.”

            Hannibal looked likely to resist, but after a brief, taut second, he relaxed. “My car is less likely to be found.”

            It wasn’t a lie. Will gripped his duffle bag tight, then relaxed. He gave a brief nod and gestured for Hannibal to lead the way.

            There was a certain edge to be the one holding the keys to the car. It was a fucking Bentley, and Will allowed himself the luxury of melting into the leather. The last mission had been tiring, in truth.

            There’d been a lot of missions that’d been tiring, if that was something he was willing to admit. Maybe not yet, not at a moment like this.

            His duffle bag rested between his legs. In it held the key to a thousand identities, a thousand opportunities. He wasn’t sure if his mind was turning or reeling. “Tell me about Mason Verger.”

            Hannibal held both hands on the wheel as they peeled through casual suburbs and took stop signs rather than street light intersections. Will saw the care of it, and his fingers fidgeted with the lock button.

            “Mason Verger was a pedophile, and my work colleague shared it with me after a troubling day at set when she broke down crying and couldn’t continue the scene.

            “I…do not have a tolerance for those that think themselves above the repercussions of harming the innocent that are in no place to protect themselves. I thought it important that I convince him of his wrongdoing, therefore I set out the careful planning of our friendship and his inevitable destruction.”

            As orange, dull streetlights striped and skewered his face, it made his grim smile feral. Will liked it. It made him remember Dolarhyde dying. Will was shot, and Hannibal hadn’t hesitated in stabbing Dolarhyde so that Dolarhyde couldn’t stab back.

            The scar was ugly, hidden only by a beard Will painstakingly maintained. It was difficult to blend in with a scar like that. Difficult to do your job when people kept asking questions.

            “It was only one party, but it was enough. We procured drugs from his personal stash, and he didn’t notice that I mixed a potent blend of psychedelics into the powder. He took them without thought, and I’m sure you know the rest.”

            “How the hell did you get a hold of something like that,”

            “I have a friend in the pharmacy business. Big pharma is actually a large problem that the federal government should look into,” he chided lightly.

            “Not my job.”

            “No, but I’d like to know about that,” he replied, and at the next stop sign he grabbed one of Will’s fidgeting hands, letting it rest in the neutral space between them on the armrest.

            “Hannibal—”

            “You said you would talk.”

            He did say he’d talk. Will chewed his bottom lip and nodded in approval at Hannibal’s turn of head towards the interstate. Interstates were safe at night. Safer than people thought, so long as you didn’t drive like an ass and draw attention to yourself.

            He waited for a few miles before he spoke. Hannibal’s patience was fine-tuned and calm, not at all intrusive. He knew Will had no sort of idea where they were going, knew he was at the mercy of Hannibal’s need to know.

            And Will had known that walking towards the car, yet he’d gotten in anyway.

            “What you saw was me using my hyper-empathy disorder in order to so completely ingrain myself into the space of another person that I’m able to aptly anticipate their needs or any potential hazards of them being within my workspace and mission. I was recruited because despite that, it doesn’t hamper my ability to kill someone, should the need arise.”

            Admitting that was easier than admitting to the rest of the job. Other people had scrutinized his psyche before; one more was nothing.

            “You’re good at it.”

            “As are you,” Will countered.

            “When I care about something, Will, I will protect it at all costs. I know what it is to be unable to protect the things that I love, and I promised myself that it would never happen again.”

            There was something in the way that he said ‘love’ that made Will’s breath stutter past his lips.

            “You don’t know me, Hannibal. You can’t suggest you love me.”

            “I know more than others, otherwise you would not be so defensive of it. Instead, you’d be cruel, as you were to the rest of your targets that now think you dead.”

            “You want me to be cruel to you?” Will asked –he didn’t appreciate the sound of it being more incredulous than threatening.

            “No, I’m informing you that if you didn’t want me to follow you, you should have made me think you were dead. You ensured such a thing from every target after me, which leads me to assume you wanted me to find you.”

            Will was still more baffled than angry that Hannibal had found him. Of all the stupid, risky, outlandish things someone had done just to get his attention…

            “That’s not unreasonable, given the evidence,” Will allowed. Begrudgingly.

            “And given how good you are at disappearing, I’d promised myself should I get you in this car, Will Graham, I wasn’t going to let you out of my sight again,” he continued, amiably. “As I said, I want to get to know you. I think I’d be more than pleased with what I find.”

            Will looked at their hands clasped. He thought of the boat adrift at sea, likely still on the wall of that bedroom inside of a house that was dusty and abandoned. He wondered if Jack would comb through that house and find himself standing in front of that canvas. If he did, he would more than likely think of Hannibal asking Will if he wanted it back. He’d ponder it for years after, should they get away with this. Had that been a codeword? Did Will betray the organization, and I was too stupid to see it?

            The bag at his feet held enough futures to last a lifetime of over and over again. Rebirth and death. Rebirth and death.

            Red Dragon had tied Hannibal in a fisherman’s knot. In his spare time, Will quite enjoyed the sport of it. Maybe he’d like to know about that? Maybe they’d find a place in the forest where no prying eyes could see?

            Will smiled. “I’d like to get to know you, too.”

            There was nothing but miles of road behind them. Just ahead lay every possibility.