Will can still feel his hands gripping the head of the nurse and his thumbs digging into her eyes, the sadistic pleasure at seeing her trying to cry in pain and for help through her crushed windpipe, at seeing her crawl on the floor in a desperate attempt to escape.
The whole thing was ruthless, brutal. The rampant ecstasy of freedom. A claim and an insult. Rage and indignation. And over all that, delight.
No elegance, no grace. No meaning. It was just awful, nothing like the Chesapeake Ripper.
Will feels sullied. He feels marked. Defiled.
He keeps scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing. His skin is turning an angry red under the scalding water of the shower. He does not turn down the temperature despite the heat making him dizzy. He only stops scrubbing when his skin breaks, and a thin trail of blood start dripping from his left arm. Then, and only then, does he stop abusing his own skin, and reach for the tap. Cold water pours over him. The contrast punches the air out of his lungs, his breath turns shallow, goosebumps form all over his skin. He holds himself under the freezing water, lets it sooth the anger, heal his mind and the abrasion on his arm.
After what seems like an eternity, when Will feels somewhat calm again, he turns off the water and steps out. He grabs a towel and wraps it tightly around himself, perfunctorily wiping the excess water dripping off him. He rummages through his cabinet for something to cover the reddened skin on his arm.
Without a look at the clothes he laid out on a chair, he goes back to the living room, water droplets dripping from his hair and onto the floor, and plops down on his bed.
His pack gathers around him. Maybe sensing his distress, they rub against his legs, whining softly, a couple of them resting their heads on his thighs. Will absent mindedly pats their heads, rubs their ears. They lick his hands, and circle his legs. His smallest leaps on the bed and curls in a tight ball beside his thigh. Two others follow. Will does not have the heart to usher them back down.
He has an appointment with Dr. Lecter in two hours. He does not want to go, not like this.
The last time he missed an appointment, Dr. Lecter went to look for him right in his lecture hall at the FBI Academy. Will considers calling anyway. He could lie, he could say he is sick. He could say that something came up at the last minute, something he absolutely has to take care of. But Dr. Lecter is not the kind of guy you can lie to with impunity. Will worries his bottom lip.
Will grabs his phone. He glances at his alarm clock on the bedside table. Dr. Lecter should be in the middle of a session right now, so hopefully he will not be able to pick up. It rings five times, his nervousness mounting with each shrill ring, before sending him to the office’s voicemail.
Will mouth is dry. He licks his lips once, they feel like sand paper. He licks them again, and clears his throat. Once he is sure his voice will come out steady—more or less—he says, “Um. This is Will Graham. I know you have a 24 hours cancellation policy, but I don’t think I can make it this evening.” What else are you supposed to say? Give a reason? He does not have a good reason. “Something came up and I—”
Goddammit. Fucking landlines.
Will’s heart leaps into his throat. He is not ready for this at all.
“Yes, hello. Dr. Lecter. Aren’t you in session?” he says hurriedly, scrambling for words. “This is Will Graham,” he adds as an afterthought.
“Will,” Dr. Lecter greets him, “My last patient just left. And the next one isn’t in another fifteen minutes.”
Fifteen minutes. Will can’t do this. He just wants to hang up on the man, no matter how rude that would be. He rubs his eyes with the heel of his palm. “I know about your cancellation policy but I—don’t think I can make it tonight.”
A pause. “Did something happen?”
Will could lie. “Yes.” Will can’t lie. “No. I just don’t feel too well. Don’t think I could drive to your office.” That sounds believable enough. And technically, it is true.
Dr. Lecter does not say anything for severable long, heavy seconds. “Will, are you okay?” He asks, a hint of concern sneaking in his voice. Maybe not that believable then.
“Yes,” comes Will’s immediate answer. He is still trying to rein in the seething anger. He rummages through his head, looking for something else to say, something more convincing this time. Maybe something about the apocalyptic weather currently attempting to drown his car, and the roads not being safe.
“Would you like to talk now?”
“There’s nothing to talk about. I’m just…” Will trails off, unsure of what he could say that would not alarm the doctor any more.
A few beats of silence. “Will, if you’re about to harm yourself—”
Holy shit. “No! No, Jesus, no, I’m not trying to—I’m not—” Okay, deep breath, count to three, start again. “I’m sorry, this is so rude of me to call at the last minute,” he says, his voice a lot more level this time. “but I really can’t come tonight. Good evening Doctor Lecter.”
And he hangs up.
Will throws his phone beside him on the bed. He buries his head in his hands, rubbing his face up and down, pushing his hair back. His pack once again whine at his state, offering a few comforting nose boops.
He is so screwed. If that call did not earn him a choice place on next dinner’s menu, he does not know what will. He should probably write a will and keep it in his pocket. ‘I, the undersigned, give, devise and bequeath all of my properties, real or personal, of whatever kind and wherever situated, to my dogs.’ Sounds about right.
He starts when his phone rings again. Of course, it is Dr. Lecter’s office. Will cannot do it a second time. He lets it go to voicemail. And the next one too. And the one after. Dr. Lecter stops trying to call him after his fourth call goes unanswered. His patient probably arrived.
Will stands to get dressed, careful not to walk on the tails swiping at his feet. He drags the boat motor to the centre of the room, and gathers his tools. He knows he will not be able to sleep tonight, so he does not try and just gets to work.
Honestly, Will should have expected it when Dr. Lecter shows up at his doorstep later in the evening. He clicks his tongue when he sees the Bentley parked beside his own car. He can barely see the man stepping off his car through the screen of rain.
Now the question is, did he come as the concerned and supportive friend, or to collect the meat for his next meal? Will grabs one of his screwdrivers. That should not give him away if the doctor came in peace, and it could buy him a few precious seconds if he came for his kidneys. Will pulls the door open, angling his body slightly to keep the screwdriver out of the Dr. Lecter’s sight.
“Good evening, Will,” he says, smiling at him.
“Dr. Lecter,” Will greets him curtly.
“May I come in?” He lightly taps his umbrella on the porch to shake off the water.
This is all starting to look awfully familiar. Next thing he knows, the doctor will pull a protein scramble out of his coat. “Depends what for.”
“You left me very concerned with your last call, and you wouldn’t answer your phone afterwards. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
Concerned and supportive friend it is. Will opens the door wider wordlessly and goes back to the boat motor in the middle of the room, to justify the screwdriver in his hand. “What about your patient?”
Dr. Lecter shakes off his coat, holding it on his arm. No protein scramble then. But Will is not ruling out a scalpel or two. “She accepted to postpone our session.”
“At the last minute?”
“She’s a considerate and understanding woman. I told her it was an emergency.”
When the anger starts surfacing again, threatening to spill over, Will kneels to continue work on the boat motor again. He inhales deeply to keep the irritation in check. It would not do to lash out at the Chesapeake Ripper in this state. “I told you I’m fine,” Will hisses between his clenched teeth.
“Indeed.” It might be sarcasm, it might be an attempt at allaying him, Will does not know. The tone does not give anything away.
Will is surprised that Dr. Lecter does not immediately bombard him with questions about his well being. He would have actually preferred it to the heavy stare the doctor fixes on his head. Will just pretends he does not notice and keeps fumbling with the boat motor, his movements jerky and erratic. He knows Dr. Lecter sees through his—poor and unconvincing, he knows—tactic but thankfully he does not comment on it. He really does not feel like holding a verbal joust right now.
“Did you have dinner?” Dr. Lecter asks instead.
“Yeah.” Whiskey can totally be considered dinner.
Dr. Lecter glances at the tumbler and bottle of whiskey on the table, then looks at Will again. Will looks up at him, holds his gaze, his right eyebrow lifted defiantly, daring him to make any comment. Dr. Lecter breaks eye contact first, but Will’s victory is short lived when, oh Jesus Christ, the doctor heads towards his kitchen.
Will scrambles to his feet, almost running to the kitchen. His pack follows him, yipping, and he clicks his tongue sharply, orders them back to their beds.
He finds Dr. Lecter looking inside his fridge. He is sure the man is already thinking of something to cook for him, but most of what is inside, he reserves for his dogs—there is no way he is feeding them commercial dog ‘‘‘food’’’—so he certainly won’t let him use it.
Will makes it to the doctor in three long strides, pulls him away from the fridge with his right hand, and shuts the door with the other, plunging them in darkness again. “I’m not hungry,” he tries to keep his tone neutral despite his growing irritation.
The man stares at him for a long moment. He tilts his head. “When was the last time you ate anything?”
That’s it. “Don’t—Don’t you dare—” His voice cracks and Will cuts himself off, bites his lower lip. He takes a deep breath, lest he starts hurling insults at Dr. Lecter. When the tightness in his throat recesses enough to let him speak, he hisses between his teeth, “I didn’t ask you to come here. I told you I’m okay, so I would be grateful if you could just—leave. Now.”
“Will, you clearly aren’t in—”
“Stop patronizing me!”
Will lashes out, tries to shove him away in a burst of rage, but Dr. Lecter grips his shoulders tightly, his coat falling to the ground. He pushes Will against the wall, and Will reacts at once. He grabs the lapels of his suit and slams him against the wall where he was a second ago, reversing their position.
Neither of them dares move, the sound of the rain banging on the walls and windows the only sound around them. Will’s breath comes out short and ragged. He sees himself in Hannibal’s blown pupils, sees his own fury reflected is those merciless eyes, and for a second, an instant crystallised in eternity, they merge into one.
Until reality crashes in, a cold shower ripping Will from the moment. He realises the danger of his situation. He breaks eye contact, lets go of the lapels, stumbles backwards until he bumps into the counter near the sink. His hands are trembling from the rush of adrenaline when they grip the edge of the counter. He knows he just grazed death, lashing out at the Chesapeake Ripper. And yet, he feels incredibly thrilled. There is something very, very wrong with him.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, breathing slowly, willing his heart rate to slow down. “I’m sorry,” he repeats, lowering his head, rubbing his face with a trembling hand. “I’m sorry,” he says again, his voice cracking at the possibility of those being the last words he will ever say.
Hannibal does not speak for a long time. Seconds, minutes tick by. The anger trickles out of Will with every exhale. He is soon left with nothing but a bone deep exhaustion.
Hannibal approaches Will, slowly, silently, the way one would approach a wild, frightened animal. He stops a few centimetres away from Will.
Will expects a knife. A blow. A hand crushing his windpipe. Violence. Blood.
He does not expect both of Hannibal’s hands on the counter, on either side of his hipbone. And he certainly does not expect Hannibal’s nose poking his cheek. Will holds his breath as another spike of fear shoots up his spine. He feels Hannibal inhale slowly, deeply, feels the tip of his nose sliding from his cheek to his jaw, from his jaw to his neck.
“You’re afraid,” he whispers near Will’s ear.
Will swallows the lump in his throat and gives a dry laugh. “I guess I am.”
“What are you afraid of?”
Will tries to smile, but he barely manages to lift one corner of his mouth. “Who knows?”
“What is it that upset you? Tell me.” It sounds like a plea rather than an order. That is what convinces Will to tell him.
He swallows once, letting the memory wash over him.
He starts easy, with the facts, “I was looking at a crime scene. This morning, at the Baltimore State Hospital. One of the inmates, Abel Gideon, he is trying to impersonate”—he stops short of saying ‘you’—“the Chesapeake Ripper.” Will sees that poor nurse, brutally mutilated for no purpose, and the anger rises again. “But he is not. He won’t ever be. He’s just—a pale imitation spitting on the Ripper’s work. He doesn’t deserve—” Will has to stop, pressing his lips together. His eyes prickle at the memory. The temporary sense of calm the scalding shower brought him has disappeared, leaving behind the acrid taste of filth and the shame of defilement.
Will bites the inside of his cheek, almost hard enough to draw blood, breathing deeply through his nose. He tightens his grip on the counter, trying to ground himself in the moment. His knuckles turn white, his hands are shaking again.
He does not move when Hannibal puts his temple against his, without filling the small gap between their chests.
Will listens to the soft shushing sounds Hannibal is making, and the sweet, comforting words he whispers in his ear. Will lets them sooth his anger, matching his breathing to Hannibal’s. He turns his head slightly, bringing their faces closer, slowly moving the point of contact from their temples to their foreheads.
For several long minutes, Will focuses on his breathing, on his heartbeat, on the steady sound of the rain against the windows. Then, the fight leaves him at once. A quiet sob builds in the back of his throat and he drops his head on Hannibal’s shoulder, lifts his hands to grip Hannibal’s upper arms tightly. Hannibal gathers him in his arms, still murmuring reassurances in his ear, running warm hands on Will’s back and in his hair. Will bites his lower lip when he feels it tremble. His vision blurs. When a tear spills over, he presses his closed eyelids to the soft fabric of Hannibal’s suit.
It takes a long time for the need to cry to pass, for his eyes to clear, for the lump in his throat to disappear. But when it does, Will does not move away from Hannibal, instead snuggling into the embrace more comfortably. He feels Hannibal nuzzling the hair behind his ear, inhaling softly.
“Better?” Hannibal whispers, low and quiet so as not to break their small cocoon of warmth.
Will nods once, slowly. He feels the exhaustion pulling at his consciousness, weighing down on his eyelids. His body sags against Hannibal, and Hannibal clasps his hands at the small of Will’s back, further securing their hold.
“What do you need, Will?”
Will opens his mouth. Closes it again. He wants Hannibal to stay, as dangerous as the request would be. But he guesses if Hannibal wanted to kill him, he would have done it by now. Still, asking him to spend the night here might be a little too desperate, and Will has shown enough vulnerability for tonight. He settles for a quiet, “Sleep.”
Hannibal leans back, not enough to break their embrace, but enough so they can look at each other. When Will dares to meet his eyes, he says, “Do you want me to stay?”
In the darkness of the hour, in the intimacy of the moment, Will feels like an open book, and for once it does not feel uncomfortable. “Yes,” he whispers, his lips just shy of Hannibal’s. Will revels in the open affection brimming in his eyes. There is no fooling himself, not now, not here. He lets it flood his own mind like a balm.
Hannibal leans down, bringing their foreheads together again. “Abel Gideon doesn’t deserve to be the source of your affliction.”
Will stares back at him for a long time. Then he closes his eyes, and releases a shuddering breath, eliciting a contented sigh from Hannibal. He focuses on the long line of heat along his front where it is pressed flush against Hannibal, savours the soft caresses of air against his lips that come with each breath. When he opens his eyes again, a smile is tugging at Hannibal’s lips.
Hannibal lifts a hand to Will’s cheek, settles it just under his ear to cradle his head. As their noses brush together, Hannibal murmurs, “But I’m flattered that you feel offended on my behalf.”