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Carnivore, Won't You Come Digest Me?

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Hannibal does not like to think of himself as a particularly impatient man. He can and has sat for hours during a stake-out in his younger days as a city cop, watching the streets for his target with naught but his own thoughts and a static-filled radio station for company. Now, as an agent for the FBI Behavioral Science Unit, his days can and have been spent pouring over case studies, research papers, files, and documentation as he processes reports and hunts serial killers. He can be patient – after all, some of his best hunts have taken him weeks to complete, and the satisfaction of finding and dealing with killers, as well as his own hobbies, have honed his ability to wait and watch to a sharp point.

But he is not particularly patient today. He finds himself sitting, waiting, in the office of a man he has never met. He's a court-ordered psychiatrist, sanctioned by his boss, Jack Crawford, to perform a psychological evaluation before Hannibal is let back into the field. The man sitting across from him is the guardian at the door between freedom and captivity. The cage master, flaunting his iron keys.

The man's name is Will. Doctor Will Graham. He's younger than Hannibal, and monied in the way that means he earned it through his work and wasn't born into it. His office is nice enough, clean and bright and welcoming. The chairs are comfortable and thickly padded. There are couches for people to lie down on and wail their problems to the ceiling.

Will is a static presence, louder than the volume in Hannibal's old cruiser even when he hasn't yet said a word beyond the polite greeting. He sits comfortably but formally, relaxed in his chair, but not slouched. A plain pad of paper sits on one thigh, the leg raised so his ankle rests over his other knee.

He portrays a welcoming, calming presence. His expression is serene, like nothing in the world could bother him.

Hannibal watches him, and Will watches Hannibal. Finally, his expression cracks, and his smile widens. "I understand why you might be hesitant, having to sit here and talk to someone like me," he says, and Hannibal hums, pressing his lips together. He raises his chin in a show of challenge that Will doesn't rise to.

"Hesitant?" he repeats, and shakes his head. "No."

Will tilts his head to one side. He rests one elbow on the arm of his chair and props his head up with his hand. His pen sits along the line of his jaw, which is covered by a thin beard. Hannibal suspects he uses it to make him look older. "Agent Crawford tells me you're one of the top investigators he has," he says, and Hannibal doesn't respond. He won’t let Will see his pride. "Highest closure rate in your entire department, so I've been told."

"Maybe," Hannibal replies, and allows himself a small smile. Will smiles back, showing the edges of his teeth. His voice is low, carefully cultivated to encourage sharing and intimacy. Hannibal doesn't like it, for the fact that he does. "Once you get a feel for the formula of a killer, it becomes routine."

Will's eyes flash. "You seem like the kind of person who enjoys their routines," he says quietly. His eyes drop to Hannibal's hands, which are loosely laced in front of him. Hannibal has his elbows on the armrests of his chair, making himself appear larger, in control.

"I am," Hannibal replies.

Will hums. "Does it bore you?" he asks.

"Why would you say that?" Hannibal says, cocking his head to one side.

Will smiles again, calmly. He doesn't hear the edge in Hannibal's voice, or he willfully ignores it. A dangerous mistake. He doesn't answer.

"I don't find my life boring, if that's what you're implying," Hannibal says.

"Of course not," Will replies, shaking his head. He drops his hand and curls his fingers around his pad of paper. It's blank, for now. "But if everything was normal, you wouldn't have been sent to me."

"Sent to you," Hannibal parrots back. "Do you see me as some wayward child sent by Uncle Jack to be kept in line?"

"Do you think you need to be kept in line?" Will replies smoothly, one eyebrow arching. Hannibal presses his lips together again, sitting back. He draws his elbows in and laces his fingers more tightly together. "I am not here to pass judgement, Agent Lecter. Nor am I here to forgive you of your sins. My role, in this session, is to ascertain if you are fit to return to your job."

"I am as fit as I was last week," Hannibal mutters.

Will hums, his smile growing sharp at the edges. He has a quite lovely smile, Hannibal notices. It makes his eyes crinkle at the corners, and they're a bright blue in the lights of his office. "Last week, your gun had ten more bullets in it," he says. "And a man was out there, killing girls so that he did not kill his daughter."

Hannibal nods.

"How does it make you feel, to know you took a life?"

Hannibal smiles. He has taken many lives before this one. "No different," he replies.

Will raises both eyebrows and lets out a quiet hum. His hand flattens on his notepad and he twirls his pen between his fingers like the coils of a snake. In his hand lies the power to resolve Hannibal of his sins, or to damn him for them. Hannibal wonders if he could forge Will's signature, and do away with him, how long it would take and how many lies he would tell before he got caught.

Too risky. But he indulges the thought of stabbing the pen through Will's neck, of watching him bleed out onto the pristine Persian rug between their chairs.

"I imagine you see a lot of darkness, in your line of work," Will murmurs.

Hannibal smiles. "It is in darkness that our truest selves are shown," he replies. "No one is ashamed of themselves when they think they are moving around unseen."

"Do you think, by stepping into the light, someone will see something that is shameful?"

Hannibal regards him coolly. "I've heard your name before," he says, and Will cocks his head to one side. "You lecture psychoanalytic analysis at the FBI university. Jack has told me of your abilities with something like awe."

Will smiles. "As you said," he replies smoothly; "When one becomes familiar with the mind, subjects become routine. It is easy to pour through the same cases over and over, and achieve the same result."

"Is that not the definition of madness?" Hannibal asks.

"Then we're all mad, aren't we?" Will replies. His smile widens when Hannibal huffs. "You don't like that you're here. I understand – a lot of people view therapy with an ill-colored eye. I am not your enemy here, Agent Lecter."

"Maybe not in your eyes," Hannibal says. His hands drop and he rests one elbow on the armrest again. His fingers find the chain around his neck and he absently pulls out the totem hanging there, rubbing it against his lower lip. "You are the gatekeeper. Through you, my freedom lies."

"Do you feel trapped?" Will asks. "It's natural to lash out when cornered. Garrett Jacob Hobbs held a knife to his daughter's throat, and there was no other recourse. So you put ten bullets in his chest and held your hand to Abigail Hobb's neck while she bled out."

Hannibal hums. He cannot look at Will anymore, and puts his eyes instead to the couch. He wonders how many pathetic, desperate people have laid on that couch, been cured by Will Graham's gentle voice and healing hand. He wonders how many people like him have sat in this chair – too far beyond help, but able to play the part well enough.

Will nods to the pendant around his neck. "You wear that all the time?" he asks.

Hannibal nods. "Saint Michael the Archangel," he replies, and lets it drop to his chest.

"The patron Saint of policemen," Will says with another nod. "Are you religious?"

Hannibal shakes his head. "Semantic," he replies, and sighs. "My sister wanted to be a policewoman when she grew up."

"And what did you want to be?"

"I didn't."

Will frowns, tilting his head to one side. Hannibal smiles. "There was a time, back in my youth, when I didn't want to be anything. I overcame it."

"Do you think you will rise above this, just as you rose above that dark time?" Will asks.

"I'm not suicidal, Doctor Graham," Hannibal says curtly. "I deal with death every day, and while I do not fear it, I am in no rush to meet him in person."

Will is silent, and Hannibal can feel his eyes on his face. He meets Will's gaze without flinching and Will regards him for a long, cool moment. "It's okay to want help, Agent Lecter," he says quietly, after another moment of silence. He shifts his weight, unfolds his legs and crosses the other ankle over his knee instead.

"It's a waste of resources, and yours and my time, to do this," Hannibal says. Will tilts his head to one side. "There are killers to catch, and I'm sure your time would be better put to use on people who actually need or desire your help."

Will smiles, slow and pleased, like Hannibal has made some major breakthrough without his knowledge. "Yes," he replies, happily. "That is true. But until I am satisfied, I'm afraid I must insist. I would ask that you indulge my curiosity."

Hannibal raises an eyebrow. "You are curious about me?" he asks.

"Jack has told me much about you," Will says. "He speaks of you very highly. So, too, does Doctor Bloom." Hannibal hums in recognition at the name. He has met her many times in Jack's presence. "You possess an ability to catch these killers that is almost paranormal."

Hannibal huffs. "Jack is out of practice," he replies. "He would be able to do it too, if he weren't so weighed down by bureaucracy."

Will hums. "You show a certain distaste for red tape and protocol. Surprising, for a man who claims to like routine so much."

"Routine and restriction are not the same thing, Doctor Graham," Hannibal says.

"Please," Will says, holding up a hand, "call me Will."

"I'd rather not."

"Afraid we might become too friendly with each other?"

Hannibal raises an eyebrow. "Implying that we might be in each other's company past this evaluation."

Will's smile widens, friendly but sharp like the fox watching the gingerbread man trail closer. Hannibal shifts his weight, unsure how he feels about the light shining in Will's eyes. "I am not afraid of seeing you, Hannibal," he says. "If you are not afraid of stepping into the light."

"Light is garish," Hannibal replies. "Blinding and bright."

"Interesting, then, that you choose to carry the totem of the second brightest of all God's angels."

Hannibal smiles. "Second only to Lucifer, who fell into shadow."

"Is that how you see yourself?" Will asks. "The son of the All-Knowing, cast to the ground, swallowed by the sin and darkness of the world. And within that darkness, you built an empire. How would you react if Michael came to you with his flaming sword and scales of justice, and scuttled you out of your home?" He pauses, and rubs his thumb across the corner of his smiling mouth. "Would you flee like a cockroach? Or attack?"

Hannibal regards him, and tilts his head to one side. "Are you trying to psychoanalyze me, Doctor Graham?"

"You sit on a throne of metaphors and savagery," Will replies coolly. "It would be rude to approach the King without speaking the language of his land."

"So you come to me as a traveler," Hannibal says. "And hope that I might welcome you into my home, and share my fire and food with you."

Will sets his notepad down and spreads his hands out in an open gesture. He straightens up and puts both feet on the floor. There's a tan line of a wedding ring around his finger, dark enough to show that the ring itself has not been there for some time, but not so dark that it is unnoticeable. Hannibal imagines that it can get tiring, to be with someone who sees every little edge and shadow to your words and actions, who simply nods and says 'I understand' and 'How does that make you feel?'.

"Let us be open and honest with each other, Agent Lecter," Will says, and Hannibal raises his chin again. "I have no intention of holding you back from returning to work. I do not think you are irreparably damaged by an act that I believe was perfectly justified, and I do not think it will affect you or cause you any pain."

Hannibal presses his lips together and hums.

Will smiles. "Now, since that's out of the way, perhaps you are more inclined to be a little less reserved towards me."

"You call it reservation," Hannibal says coolly. "Perhaps I simply don't find this practice very interesting."

Will tilts his head to one side, sitting back and sighing – but not in aggravation, or any other negative emotion. "I take pride in my work, Agent Lecter," he says, somewhat sharply. "I would consider it a great personal triumph if you would do the same."

Hannibal hums. "Jack has told me about you, as well," he says, and Will cocks his head to one side. "He says you possess the gift of pure empathy. You can assume any point of view that suits you – mine, or his, or even a killer's if you so desired." Will's eyes flash, he bites his lower lip, and he gives a nod that looks forced. "What do you see, when you look at me?"

Will drums his fingers against the edge of his notepad, one by one, like the countdown drum to the guillotine. "You sit in that chair as a patient," he says, and nods to Hannibal's seat. "It is where countless others have sat, and yet I feel as though our roles here could easily be reversed. In another life, maybe I was the one who shot and killed Garrett Jacob Hobbs. I think it would distress me immensely to do so."

"And it troubles you, that it doesn't distress me?" Hannibal replies.

"I think you are a man of practicality and resource," Will says. "You are judge, jury, and, when necessary, executioner. And you shoulder that responsibility as Atlas shoulders the sky. But even Atlas had reprieve."

"Through deceit," Hannibal says. "Do you think I mean to deceive you?"

Will smiles. "I think you would try, given half the chance," he replies.

"Opportunity and practicality rarely go hand in hand," Hannibal says, smiling. "One requires justification, the other forethought. I could have wounded Garrett Jacob Hobbs, and not killed him. I could have gotten his confession, and prosecuted him for his arrest. That would have been more practical. It would have meant I never had to sit in this chair."

"So, instead, you reacted. You took the opportunity to end him," Will says. "An avenging angel."

"An angel of mercy," Hannibal replies. "Rabid dogs should be put down. He was just a dog."

Will's eyes flash again, and he presses his lips together and lets out a quiet hum. "Well, Agent Lecter, I think that's a good place to end this session," he says, and Hannibal blinks. He had been quite unaware of the time passing by, and finds himself strangely disappointed at Will's abrupt ending. Just when he had started to enjoy the conversation.

Will stands, and Hannibal follows suit. Will walks him to the door, and Hannibal takes his FBI windbreaker and shrugs it on. "I'll tell Jack you are fit and ready to resume your duties at the agency," Will says, and shakes Hannibal's hand with a friendly, warm smile. "Goodbye, Agent Lecter. Thank you for indulging me."

"Goodbye, Doctor Graham," Hannibal replies, and leaves Will's office, feeling oddly displaced, in a way that he hadn't felt upon entering the building.

 

 

The next morning, Hannibal leaves his apartment and drives to work. He checks in with Jack and his gun and badge are returned to him, along with a gruff 'Welcome back', which for Jack is as ardent and loving as a surprise party with cake. Still, he appreciates the weight of his gun at his hip and the knowledge that he can go back to his work.

It would be most inconvenient if he were to resume his normal hobbies and be unable to work within the FBI to keep their attention blind to him. Hannibal has made an art out of cultivating and sniffing out other killers to cover his tracks. He's been doing it for years, and thinks it's safe to say he has become a master at it.

Killing Garrett Jacob Hobbs had not been an accident, but Hannibal will admit he got no pleasure out of it. This wasn't a hunt for his own amusement – this had been a real man, a dog trying to pretend it was a wolf, and Hannibal doesn't like using guns. They lack intimacy, and they are far too quick. And bullets shred meat and bone apart to the point where they're unusable.

"Hannibal," Jack says, catching his attention, and Hannibal lifts his head from his desk. Jack gestures for him to approach, and Hannibal stands, locks his computer, and follows Jack to his office.

He stops when he sees none other than Will Graham sitting in one of the chairs opposite Jack's desk. He cocks his head to one side and Will turns to look at him, smiling in a gentle welcome.

"Have a seat," Jack says, in a way that sounds like a suggestion but is definitely an order. Hannibal swallows and takes a seat next to Will. Will sits the same way as he had in his office, relaxed and professional. The wind and chill of the outside means his cheeks are turning pink in the warmth of Jack's office, and his hair is fluffy and curling around his neck from the humidity of the promised storm.

Jack takes his seat as Hannibal settles, and folds his hands on his desk. "I'll get right to the point," he says. "Doctor Graham, I have a bit of a problem."

Will frowns, sitting up a little straighter. Hannibal curls his hands in the pockets of his jacket and resists the urge to slouch like a sullen teenager.

"We caught the Minnesota Shrike, as you well know." Will nods, and Hannibal frowns, wondering why Jack is bringing up that case. He would rather Garrett Jacob Hobbs and the embarrassing legacy of his own rashness fade into memory. "I'd like you to take a look at something."

Jack hands Will a slim file. It's not the one on Garrett Jacob Hobbs – Hannibal knows that file intimately, and it is far thicker. Will takes it and opens it, and Hannibal straightens up, leaning over so he can see the file as Will opens it.

Inside is a series of photographs and an autopsy report, of the girl Hannibal had murdered while in Minnesota, the one he'd mounted on the deer head. It had been a moment of indulgence – he'd wanted to see what it was like inside of Garrett Jacob Hobbs' mind, but had found it to be too dull, too full of emotion, for it to be a true likeness.

Will lets out a soft growl, touching the image of the girl in the photograph with trembling fingertips. Hannibal sits back, surprised at his reaction. "What is this?" Will demands, looking angry when he raises his eyes.

Jack presses his lips together. "It's the last victim of Garrett Jacob Hobbs," Hannibal says. Will looks at him. "Aside from his family."

"No," Will says. He looks back at the photographs and swallows back another tight, angry sound. "This wasn't done by the Shrike."

Jack raises his eyebrows, but his expression is like he's just confirmed what he already suspected. "What's different about it?"

"This is…lacking in honor," Will says. "He wanted her to be found this way. It’s the homicidal equivalent of fecal smearing. It's…" His upper lip curls, his eyes flashing brightly with something like wrath and disgust. "It’s petulant. I almost feel like he’s mocking her." He raises his eyes. "Or he’s mocking us."

Jack cocks his head to one side.

Will closes the folder and hands it back. "Whoever tucked Elise Nichols into bed didn't paint this picture."

Hannibal hums. "I was unaware you were so familiar with the Shrike case," he says.

Will's eyes move to his, and his lips twitch in a smile. The wrath is gone, buried behind the serene psychiatrist façade. "I like to do my research, Agent Lecter," he replies calmly. "And since you already know – I teach here, meaning every case, once closed, is free to be a study in my lectures. I'm very familiar with the Shrike case."

And me, as well. Hannibal resists the urge to say it.

"If this is a different killer, it means we have a copycat," Jack says tightly, drawing their attention back to him. "Doctor Graham, I'd like your help to catch him."

Will blinks, his eyebrows rising. "I'm not sure I could be much help to you, Agent Crawford," he says slowly. "And I'm sure your team is more than capable of catching this killer. If, indeed, he means to strike again."

"I don't think this is his first murder, Doctor Graham," Jack replies. "And I don't think it will be his last."

Hannibal blinks, and swallows. "Forgive me," he says, "but I'm still at a loss as to my involvement, here."

Jack shakes his head. "I can't send a civilian to crime scenes without training, Hannibal," he says. "I need him to be escorted, should this copycat rise again. You're the best agent I have. I want Doctor Graham to shadow you, in the hopes that when you next happen upon this copycat, you will have his eyes to help you find him."

Hannibal blinks, and frowns. "I don't think that'll be necessary," Hannibal says. "I can catch him myself."

"You didn't notice the difference before," Jack replies coolly, his tone lending no room for argument. Hannibal stifles a growl and sits back again, and this time he knows he is definitely sulking.

Will presses his lips together, drumming his fingers against his thigh. His eyes aren't fixed on anything in particular, but Hannibal senses that Will can feel the tension in the room as easily as he might hear Jack and Hannibal growling at each other.

"I will certainly do anything I can to help the FBI catch a killer," he finally says, and pushes himself to his feet. "I'm sorry, Jack, but I'm afraid I must leave. I have an appointment this afternoon and I wouldn't want to be late."

"Of course," Jack says, and stands. "Hannibal will walk you out. Thank you, Doctor Graham."

Will shakes his hand with a tight smile, and leaves the room. Hannibal follows after a moment, knowing he is being dismissed. "I'm terribly sorry," Will says after a few steps. "I had no idea of Jack's intentions."

"You do not need to justify yourself to me," Hannibal replies. "Nor do you need to justify Jack. I am familiar enough with him to know that, whenever he decides on something, it is a result of much forethought."

Will smiles, thawing from his tense posture. "You do not think Jack is more of an opportunist?" he asks.

Hannibal hums, coming to a stop outside of the doors leading to the outside of the building. Will turns to regard him, his hands in his pockets and pulling the halves of his coat tight around his body in preparation to brave the cold.

"I suppose we will be seeing more of each other, after all," Hannibal says mildly.

Will smiles, biting his lower lip. "It appears so," he replies. "I'll try not to get in the way."

Hannibal cocks his head to one side, eyebrows rising. "This promises to be an interesting venture," he says. "I do hope you have the stomach for it, Doctor Graham."

Will's eyes flash, not righteous, but acknowledging and accepting Hannibal's challenge.

"I suppose that remains to be seen," he replies. Then the challenge is gone and replaced with the small, vacant smile once more. "I'll see you around, Agent Lecter."

Then he turns, and leaves, and Hannibal feels that strange displacement overtake him again. Curious. He returns to his desk and sits down with a heavy sigh, his thoughts a whirl as he tries to focus on his next case: a man creating Angels and sleeping under their watchful eye.