"I'm not going in!" he shakes his head, "It may be clear as glass but it's just as sharp. It's melted snow, it's freezing!"
The man runs past him anyway, with a triumphant yell and a splash enough to soak Galahad through regardless of his attempts to protect himself with his cloak. There's laughter around him and he joins in, too stunned, and now too cold to do much else.
In the middle of the pool, Tristan resurfaces, flicking the heavy wet braids from his eyes and grinning.
"This is your land, Galahad, are you so afraid of it?"
The expression is enough to warm the pit of his stomach, to gentle his own smile to something softer.
"I am afraid of nothing." he replies, voice loud, foolishly confident. Behind him, another series of guffaws, a whistle. Tristan's grin widens, he beckons, and Galahad feels his heart hammer in his chest, obscuring all other sounds, as though he's in water already, as though his ears are filled with cotton wool. He frowns.
Tristan mouths something, and Galahad shakes his head, unable to hear, mouth suddenly stuck shut so he can't call out to ask. He steps back half a step before he bumps into another warm body, and hands wrap around his shoulders and push him forward into the cold pool.
He'd been right. The water did feel like glass.
He twists, determined to free himself and surface, launch himself from the water and pull the culprit into the pool with him, but his cloak tangles, drawing tight around him like a shroud, compressing his lungs and pulling him down with its weight.
He cries out, tries to. Sees nothing but bubbles in the steadily darkening water. He feels a tug against the cloak and turns, a quick jerk, desperate, but finds nothing there but dark...
Will wakes shaking, body wet and lungs burning as though he'd fallen through the pool to the other side of the world. He had, in a way, he supposed. Fallen through a dream and out into reality. Out somewhere he isn't sure he belongs anymore.
He struggles with the blankets until he can free his arms, drop his hands over his eyes and press hard, until he sees stars.
The dreams were getting more vivid, real enough to have him gasping for air as though he was drowning in it. The last month, in particular.
And he can't even blame the crime scenes - the dreams are entirely unrelated.
It takes him a while to sit up, still shaking from the residual shock of falling into a glacial waterfall pool, from the memory itself that left him without grounding or anything at all but a hollow, odd longing he couldn't explain away.
It's growing lighter outside, the early dawn cold and creeping up through the gap in the blinds. Will only flicks his eyes to it for a moment, enough to gauge that the dogs would be alright a while longer and he could shower in peace.
The warm water brings no more relief, but Will stands under the spray anyway, face up and eyes closed tight as he holds his breath and the white noise fills his head. He doesn't think. Tries not to. Attempting to dredge up the dreams when he's awake has proven futile and exhausting. Like trying to hold any dream and take apart the details - he remembers less and less the harder he tries to pull against the strands of it.
It frays and splits like a butterfly's wing, leaving his fingers tainted but nothing substantial to blame.
So he stands, feels the noise grow louder in his ears, feels his heart start to hammer from the sheer confusion of the sound and lack of clarity. He ducks his head and exhales, drawing in another breath and blinking his eyes open.
Drops cling to the lashes, heavy and thick until he blinks again to dislodge them.
Will rubs his face, turns the tap off, and reaches for a towel.
The scene itself is unusual, a body left behind by someone who has never left one behind before. Returned and placed in bed as though she had never been taken, as though she was sleeping the entire time and no one had bothered to check.
Will sighs, feels the room empty of everything - people, sound, gravity. The pendulum swings and he's not here anymore.
There's regret in the kill, something that has never been present before. As though this one had been a mistake, and he had felt so guilty he had to do everything in his power to bring her back.
She lay dead, though, cold and still in her slumber.
For a moment, her form shivers, as though a mirage, and another lays in her place, broader and heavier, distinctly male where she had been willowy and girlish. Will blinks, frowns, takes in the blood and dirt - ash wet with sweat and smeared over a familiar face, lips just barely parted, chest rising and falling in its last attempt to give the body air –
"You're Will Graham,"
The interruption has never been more welcome.
Will shakes his head, then nods, mumbles out his side of the conversation and stumbles from the room when he's allowed. The aspirin rattles in the bottle when he reaches for it, shakes 5 pills into his hand instead of two and places his thumb on the ones he wants before sliding the rest back.
He swallows them dry and feels his throat burn, tastes blood in his mouth that isn't his, that isn't there.
He wakes, shivering, panic setting in a moment when he sees nothing at all. The darkness is absolute, like velvet. Velvet from deer antlers and heavy cloaks.
Will sits up slowly, dragging his shirt over his head to toss away before he wraps the blankets around himself and sits, letting the shivers pass on their own. This case hangs heavy over his head, it just won’t let him go.
It takes him a moment to realize that he’d woken from a sound, a gentle knocking on the hotel door, in patterns of three.
Jack had warned him that he would be seeing Hannibal Lecter now, to talk through with the only other person who had been there, what had happened with Abigail Hobbs.
Sleepless nights and nausea, uncontrollable shaking.
Will forces himself from bed, forgetting all dignity, ignoring it in favor of telling the man at his door to go away.
An hour later he’s still at the tiny table by the window with the curtains drawn shut, and Hannibal is sitting opposite him telling him Will is not as fragile as Jack thinks he is.
“If you think yourself more fragile, you will become it.”
Tristan grins, sitting up before lifting his knee from Galahad’s chest. He stands, holds out his hand to the other, and helps him up.
He’s no older than fifteen, four years away from home, and eleven years until it even graces his horizons. Galahad is younger, nearing twelve. He’s small, angry like a cat but no weaker than the boys he’s been thrown together with. But he can’t fight.
“If I think you dead, will you be?” comes the acerbic response. Tristan just smiles, flips the small knife in his palm and passes it back to the youth, hilt first.
It had been Arthur who had come up with the idea of training Galahad up with the smaller daggers. It had been Tristan who had volunteered to. They had been at this a week, Galahad had not gotten better.
“You fight in anger, and anger veers the course of your weapon, you beautiful, stubborn boy.” Tristan tells him. Behind and around them, the others have gathered to watch. It’s that, too, that drives Galahad’s anger to high, his cheeks flushed red with it and the humiliation that came with finding his back to the ground once more.
He doesn’t reply to Tristan’s words, he just glares at the knife in his hand.
“I don’t know how else to fight.” He grits out.
“You don’t know how to fight at all.”
Around them, the boys chuckle, only Tristan and Arthur stay quiet at Lancelot’s words, childish and cruel as they are.
“You did not know how to fight at all,” Tristan murmurs at length, eyes on Galahad before he turns away, “Until your shoulders learned the feeling of the ground under them. And your ankles the feeling of a sword flicking them out from under you.”
There’s a series of hoots from the other boys. No one had been a good fighter, most still weren’t. Lancelot had excelled of late only, Arthur had been taught from youth. Tristan…
Tristan was a phenomenon.
“He will best you in a fight.” Tristan continues, turning back, “When he finds his feet.”
Galahad swallows, brows drawn in a frown, dagger held loose in his hand as he stares down at it. As he hears the next words but doesn’t register them.
“He will remember even when the last of us forget.”
The first time it happens, it’s in a field.
Fog soothes the grass to an ocean and nothing else matters but the lights in Will’s house, far out across from him, like a boat in the middle of nothing at all. It’s soothing. Silent. Very, very cold.
He’s found himself out here before, bare feet turned numb in the cold wet grass, hands at his sides, trembling fingers. It’s grounding, calming enough to have Will realize where he is, forget to worry about how he got there.
The call catches him off guard, the sharp cry of a crow in flight, just darker than the sky behind it, just enough to see. Will watches it arc, from the trees and up, wings outstretched, meditates on it until the feathers seem darker and the sky behind it lighter, until it drops, sharply, and lets its wings brush the fog.
It swirls up, like smoke from a candle, and Will frowns, watches it twist and bend and when he turns at another bird cry it’s not fog anymore but smoke. Rising rancid and thick from tar-covered hay, bodies in the once-empty field lie still or twitch in their last moments of life.
The bird circles, seeking. Then it drops, lands careful and soft on an outstretched hand, ruffles its feathers and allows them to be stroked smooth by a familiar touch, murmured at by familiar words.
“Where did you go, hmm?”
Will steps closer, brows furrowed, the figure obscured by the smoke that’s stinging his eyes.
“Do you want to go out again?”
The voice curls gently on the vowels, softening them in an accent he can’t place. The bird’s wings stretch, it bends its head and caws again.
Will blinks when the bird takes off, wings breaking apart the delicate sinews of the fog around it. It’s night again. It’s freezing. And across the field, Will’s house stands like a beacon, a boat in the middle of an endless ocean.
And he feels safe.
"I wake up with blood on my hands." Will murmurs, at length, and Hannibal tilts his head for him to elaborate. "I wake up with blood on my hands that isn't there. I go to wash them clean and there is nothing. As though, as soon as the light comes on, it dissipates."
"Perhaps you've started wandering further in your dreaming state," Hannibal offers, hands clasped together and resting on his bent knee as Will continues to pace, as he shakes his head harder.
"I'm not sleepwalking, I know I'm awake. I don't lose time between seeing my hands and cleaning them."
There's a silence, Will stops pacing and fidgets, pushing his hands into his pockets, taking them out again, sliding his glasses down his nose to wipe them with the corner of his shirt just visible from under his sweater. Hannibal notices he doesn't tuck it back when he's done.
"And you refuse to believe these are triggered by the work you do." Hannibal confirms after the pause has grown heavy. Will shakes his head but says nothing.
Another pause, one of consideration for Hannibal, one of restless nervousness for Will. It's the former that breaks it, again, to tell Will they will need another session to delve deeper into the problem.
"This is the sixth, Hannibal!" Will's voice is raised, the note of desperation in it so strong he can barely keep it steady. "The sixth time, the sixth appointment you've told me has given you nothing."
"Because you have given me nothing." the other replies calmly. He uncrosses his legs and leans forward to rest his wrists against his knees, hands still clasped, but looser. Will far enough away for him not to have to raise his eyes too far to keep them on Will's face.
"You came to me describing dreams that feel, and sound, like the ones you had had when Jack had you in the field every week. You tell me you see death, and blood, that you see yourself committing the acts - as you had seen every crime scene through the killers eyes. Will's it's what you do."
"It's not. It's not - this."
Will swallows hard and crosses his arms over his chest, trying to compose himself back to a semblance of calm. Hannibal lets him.
"You come to me for recommendation," Hannibal tries again, "For guidance. To be your gauge when you don't trust yourself, correct?"
There is hesitation, brought on by anger and helplessness, but Will nods. Hannibal mirrors the gesture.
"I think you need to tell me more about your dreams." he says quietly, "Beyond the details you see. Tell me where you are in the dreams, how they feel. Who's there with you."
Will's shoulders stiffen for a moment before he sighs and lets the tension free. The movement does not slip by Hannibal, he remembers it to record once Will has left.
"I believe you would benefit from another session."
Will says nothing. Makes no indication that he'd heard the advice, that he will follow it. He simply stands in the room and allows himself to take the space in. To breathe. To find the equilibrium that Hannibal knows the office gives him. Neither move for a long time, until whatever timer Will had set himself to respond by trickles down to its end and he turns, nods tiredly, and walks over to retrieve his jacket from the stand by the door.
He doesn't wait for Hannibal to reach him before he leaves the office, closing the door quietly behind him.
It had been a dare, initially. From Lancelot, if Galahad remembered correctly.
"His hair is long enough anyway," he'd said, "What are you, scared of him? He's tame."
It had started as tangles, something painful and inconvenient, something he was sure the older boy had wanted anyway, given Tristan had beaten him in training again that morning.
It had slowly dawned on Galahad how much of a coward Lancelot was that he hadn't gone to do this himself, and he'd changed the game.
In the morning, Tristan had woken with braids heavy and uneven over his eyes, to Lancelot's laughter, Galahad dozing beside him, exhausted from his task.
From then, he had never worn his hair loose.
As it grew, longer and wilder than before, he would ask Galahad to redo them. In secret at first, then whenever they had a moment spare, no one cared after they had seen their first few Woad raids.
Every year, the braiding got more elaborate.
One winter, Tristan fell to fever. Their camp was far in the mountains, too far for him to make the journey, so Dagonet had gone, with Arthur, for supplies.
The night was unkind, the fever didn’t break.
“He will not see the morning,” Lancelot had murmured, brows furrowed in genuine concern, old rivalries forgotten in the face of something so powerful as disease. He hadn’t looked at Galahad, hadn’t done anything beyond murmur a prayer and leave Tristan’s tent. Bors had followed.
It was early morning when Galahad pulled a small dagger from his boot and cut one of the smaller braids from Tristan as he fitfully slept. He folded it in cloth and kept it against his heart, and hoped.
Will nearly stumbles from the car, waving off Jack’s concern.
“Headache.” He mutters, eyes barely open as though to corroborate, hand against his temple like it would hold his head together.
There are five aspirin in his system today. Either he has developed a resistance or he hasn’t taken enough. His hands are shaking but he refuses help to get to the porch and inside. He keeps his back against the door until the sound of tyres grows farther away.
He had had a serenade in his mind all day, a lonely slow cello piece played upon the vocal cords of an unfortunate trombonist. He knew the piece, it wove and vibrated against his skull, an old piece. Occasionally a voice, perhaps his own, murmured words he couldn’t place, but knew by heart.
Landi av leysa Landi av Hetja
Landi at gaf oss hoppas ok minni
Høra várr syngva Høra várr Löngun
Við vilja fara heim yfir bærghinn
Will sighs and rubs his eyes. The cases seemed to be getting more and more brutal, terrifying, and the more he looked at them, the less scared he felt.
He has perhaps a second’s notice before something impacts him, sends him falling heavy with a grunt to the floor, head cracking hard against the wall behind him.
The intruder is silent, not that Will would be able to see him the way his head is spinning and his eyes are filled with stars. He struggles to sit up, to get his feet under him; barely catches the garrotte before it can press intimately to his throat.
He knows this killer, he’s been inside his head.
He’s been hearing his music in his mind all day and yet… he hasn’t. The song did not belong to him. The song was from another time, from cold mountains and heavy tents, woven boots and horses.
Will twists, helpless as he’s lifted, fingers no barrier for the wire sliding through them like butter.
He would die here. Bleed out.
Perhaps he shouldn’t have taken the aspirin.
“I haven’t the strength!” Galahad groans, exasperated. Tristan merely shakes his head.
“You do not need your own if you can use another’s,” he insists. Galahad had learned the knives quickly, but he was still too easily overpowered, he would not get close enough to his opponent to use them if he was scared he would be bested before he tried.
“You must unbalance them. They see you as small, use that as an advantage.”
Galahad frowns, turns the blade in his hand absently without looking at it. It sits comfortable and light in his palm, he knows the weapon well.
“Play weak until you can use your strength.”
The younger knight does not stop spinning the blade. Fingers deft and quick now, arm no longer covered in scratches and blood. He spins and spins it, until it blurs, until his eyes lose focus and all he can hear is his breathing.
Will hangs limp, hands useless but pressed against his throat still, eyes closed and lips parted when he no longer draws breath. His attacker drops him, slides the wire from around him and kicks him flat.
There are footsteps, a shift of fabric and the man kneels at Will’s head, hand curled lightly just under his knows to feel if he’s breathing.
There’s a beat, two, and Will huffs a breath, grabs the man by the arm and yanks.
They end up sprawled together on the floor, Will unable to get a good grip with his slippery fingers, the pain forgotten for the moment with the adrenaline that has replaced his blood. He moves on instinct, just as silent as the man who had come to kill him, swift now that his attacker has lost the element of surprise.
He lands one clean hit before the struggle grows, feels the gasp more than hears it, and gives the man enough movement to turn himself over, to present the back of his neck that Will aims for with a keen intensity.
He has no weapon, cannot reach the one that was used on him. He finds the first thing his fingers pull, the pen he usually carries in his top pocket, fallen in the struggle, and strikes.
It’s only when the struggle ceases, when the only movement from the man under him are nervous ones his body no longer controls, that Will shoves himself away, pushing himself back until he hits a wall and shakes against it.
His hands don’t feel like his own, the blood pouring from them someone else’s.
He’s shaking, swallowing air like he’s drowning, and around him all he can smell is ash and char.
When he can breathe, when his heart beats as his own and not in double time with another’s, Will stands, catches himself with a smear of blood against the nearest wall and pushes further into the house to find the phone.
“You took my hair,” Tristan had asked. Galahad had said nothing, watches the fire, listened to the wood crackle and spark. Their watch was nearly over, it was a year after the terrifying winter. They were on another raid.
His throat tightens, jaw sets and he doesn’t blink. He watches the fire like it’s the most important thing in the world. Feels his heart beat softly against the small bundle still pressed against his chest, all this time later.
“I wanted to remember.” He says at length.
It’s not a lie. He had wanted his friend close, in any way he could have him, if he did not make it till morning.
He had lived, and since, Galahad had believed it was his heart beat that had encouraged Tristan’s to not falter. He could not set aside the braid, as he couldn’t set aside his own ability to breathe.
“As my heart beats, so would yours.”
The fire crackles again, sends a spark to the sky and fades amongst the stars. Galahad watches it until there is another, until there is a third. And then he turns his head when Tristan’s palm warms his chin and manages only to murmur the man’s name before warm lips meet his and silence him.
Hannibal reaches the house before the police do, the door to his car swinging open when he doesn’t close it quite hard enough as he takes the porch stairs two at a time and pushes the front door open.
Will sits slumped in the corridor, eyes barely open, lips parted on soft pants of air. He smiles when he sees Hannibal, allows the man to examine his hands, closes his eyes in the biggest show of trust he can allow himself.
“I was worried you were dead,” Hannibal murmurs, hands up against Will’s face, opening his eyes to see if there is any response. He’s lost a lot of blood. Will just smiles wider.
“Not a fragile tea cup.” He reminds him, a previous conversation held in jest, another, much longer ago held in earnest.
Hannibal smiles, presses his thumb gently under Will’s eye and watches the other turn into the gesture.
Beyond, there is the muffled sound of sirens and suddenly Will clings as though the sound brings more fear in him than the body lying still in his front room.
“Don’t go.” He begs, voice softer and eyes barely open. Before him, sits a man with braided hair and a warm smile, markings on his face enhancing the curve of his cheekbones. Warm eyes familiar from cold winters and freezing waterfalls, horse treks and raids. Warm as late night fires and fingers gentle on his skin.
“Tristan, don’t go.”
He gets nothing in answer but a soft crinkling around the eyes, a gentling of an expression. Tristan blinks his eyes and Will follows suit, the man before him put-together and well groomed now, but the eyes just the same. Just as before.
“I shall not.” He says, and the words seem softer, somehow, gentler when they’re pressed to his forehead with dry lips. “Not when you finally remember.”
Hannibal sighs, eyes closing as the sirens draw closer, as Will’s grip on him doesn’t lessen.
“My beautiful, stubborn, remarkable boy.”