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Verisimilitude

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Dogs with large lesions on the occipital lobe become sweet and harmless, even when they were quite nasty before.
- Origins of Neuroscience: A History of Explorations into Brain Function (1994)

One. Cerebrum.

Hannibal Lecter dies on November 23rd.

Will remembers the day, uneventful by any measure. He spends the afternoon outside, bundled in layers of flannel, tossing a well-chewed rubber ball around with his mutts. The barren branches of the maples twitch spasmodically in the frigid gusts; the sky is a dull white that burns the edges of his retinas. When he feels his cell phone vibrate in his pocket, he considers ignoring the call. Ever since leaving the field, choosing his lecture hall over the FBI's crime scenes, he no longer feels an obligation to be on-call. Still, when he sees Jack Crawford's name on the caller ID, he figures that he'd better pick up. Just in case.

"Will?"

"Yeah." He pitches the ball once again into the field -- his dogs sprinting into the high grasses with a chorus of barks and yelps and howls.

"How're you doing?"

"Fine." Winston drops the rubber ball in front of Will's beat-up hiking boots. Will scoops up the ball, coated with the slick of canine saliva, into the palm of his hand and prepares himself for another pitch.

"I wanted you to get the news from me . . ."

"What news?"

"Hannibal's dead."

Will is aware that life continues on around him. The dogs are nipping lightly at his ankles, trying to spur on the game. The shrill chirping of the osprey trembles through the stillness. The flesh of his palm, the layer covered in spittle, chills in the autumn air. "Can you . . ." He clamps down on his lower lip, holding the flesh firmly between his teeth, before starting again: "Can you say that again?"

"Hannibal's dead."

He draws his elbow back, squeezing his fist around the rubber of the ball, before launching it into the woods. His dogs take off like a shot, stumbling over each other in their race. He throws the ball four more times before Jack finally interrupts his silence.

"Will? You still there?"

"Yeah."

"Are you going to be alright?"

"Yeah."

" . . . I'll stop by tomorrow and see you."

Will starts to argue ("You really don't have to --") but a click indicates that Jack has already hung up.

He learns that Hannibal died of complications during a severe bout of pneumonia. His death had been unexpected; otherwise, the FBI would have conducted a deathbed interrogation, a shameless attempt to wheedle out information about any unsolved crimes. He learns that the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane took it upon themselves to dispose of the body. There would be no funeral services. (Not that Will would have attended if there had been.) He learns that Hannibal was cremated, and his ashes were tossed in an unmarked grave. There would be nowhere to visit. (Not that Will would have visited if there had been.)

He learns one more thing during this time:

He learns how quiet life is without Hannibal.

It's curious to him at first. He hasn't visited Hannibal in years -- not since the entire Dolarhyde fiasco. The scar tissue that tugs across the right side of his face serves as a constant reminder of what Hannibal was capable of accomplishing from inside a maximum-security cell. Still, despite the physical distance between them, he still felt a connection -- the wispy sinews that stretched, floss-like and delicate, between their minds. During every insignificant moment of his life -- pouring the detergent into his laundry machine, changing the oil in his broken-down junker, examining the expiration dates on packages of ground beef -- he knew that Hannibal was out there. Just one short drive away. Right down the I-170 off exit 35.

Although he'd never tell anyone, sometimes he would get into his car on Sunday afternoons and drive down the I-170. He would never get all the way to exit 35. He would stop off in small towns along the Chesapeake Bay instead: Sharpsburg and Rosemont and Friendsville. Towns of ramshackle houses with electrical wires strung up in front of them. Towns of pick-up trucks and five-and-dimes and empty roads. He would sit in diners, tapping his jagged fingernails against the ceramic tabletops.

He would purposefully try to ignore the fact that less than ten miles away from him, Hannibal Lecter was sitting in his plexiglass fishbowl, watching the world pass him by.

Will stops taking long drives through the countryside after Hannibal's death.

He tries taking Alana Bloom out on a date. They go to a street fair on Clarendon Boulevard. Both of them play the carnival games -- hooking plastic fish on the ends of their magnetic poles. (He remembers afternoons standing in the Piankatank River, casting his line out into the choppy waters. He remembers hallucinations of a stag, patchy with feathers, watching him from a wooded enclave.) Each fish has been marked with a red dot, earning them 99-cent store junk from underneath the counter. They pick apart cotton candy with sticky fingers, letting the granular sugar dissolve on their tongues.

Alana kisses him on the Ferris wheel.

He pulls away and tells her that he's not ready.

"What does that mean?" she asks.

Will shrugs.

He doesn't know.

----------

He finds the case file on his desk.

It's follow-up from a series of run-of-the-mill murders. Six young women. Typical snatch-and-stabs by a gang banger from Cherry Hill. Nothing that warranted an agent like him getting involved. Yet now he finds this case file on his desk with a handwritten Post-It note affixed to the jacket:

We're short-staffed and need you to follow-up at BSHCI. Complete by tomorrow COB.
Jack

A command, not a request. Will considers tossing the case file into the recycling bin on his way out the door -- but, as his lecture for the following day has been cancelled, he decides that he needs to earn his paycheck somehow. So he finds himself driving down the I-170 the next morning, for the first time in months, with a light smattering of rain marring his visibility. In his cup holder, there's a styrofoam cup of black coffee that he bought at a gas station. When he took his first sip, he burned his mouth; now, his tongue feels rough, like swollen pebbles have erupted underneath the membrane.

He likes the feeling.

Keeps him grounded.

He pulls up to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane around noon. Despite the fact that his incarceration happened years ago, he can't help the shudder that pulses from the root of his tailbone when he sees the brick building looming in the distance. Dr. Chilton meets him on the front steps, his polyester-blend suit starched and ironed.

"Agent Graham, how nice to see you again."

"I'm here to talk to Rahman Diaz."

"Of course," Chilton says, leading the way into the hospital lobby. "Agent Crawford called to say that you'd be stopping by."

"Did he."

"I'll escort you to Mr. Diaz's cell."

"I can escort myself," Will insists, and then with a tight smile: "It's not like I don't know my way around."

Anyone else probably wouldn't notice, but Will has been studying human behavior for a long time. He notices the way that Dr. Chilton's fingers clench slightly, the way that he shifts his weight in his scuffed loafers. "I really must insist, Agent Graham. There have been some issues with security. We can't just let guests go roaming around."

Will considers asking what "issues" there have been -- but he manages to restrain himself. He knows that there haven't been any issues. Chilton just doesn't want him wandering around by himself.

Why?

Still, he allows himself to be led downstairs by Chilton, into the maximum security maze of cells with their industrial iron bars. Even though he hasn't been down here in years, he still remembers which cell belonged to Hannibal. As they pass, he intentionally looks away -- not wanting to see the patient who has taken up residence in that space. He feels an undefinable churning in the pit of his stomach at the thought, but it's not something that he chooses to dwell on. Instead, he inhales deeply and continues down the hallway towards Diaz's cell. When they arrive, a metal folding chair has been put out for him. Diaz, a stocky little man with deeply pockmarked flesh (icepick scars, they're called) and an unpleasant disposition, sits cross-legged on his cot.

"I can take it from here," Will says with a dismissive nod towards Chilton.

He notices that Chilton looks back down the hall before turning once again towards his guest. "I'm afraid I must insist." And then when it looks like Will might argue, he reminds him: "Security issues."

Will sits down, the chair clanking against the cement floor. Chilton hovers a few yards away from him.

"Mr. Diaz?"

"Who're you?" His voice sounds rough, vocal cords corroded by decades of tobacco abuse.

"Special Agent Graham, FBI."

"Will Graham?"

"Yes. I have a few questions that I'd like to ask you --"

But he's interrupted by a hacking chortle from the patient. Diaz turns and spits out a dollop of phlegm onto the floor of his cell. "He's coming for you, esé."

"That's quite enough, Diaz," Chilton says, stepping forward. Will realizes, in that moment, that the patient wasn't speaking to him; he was speaking to Chilton. He looks up at the hospital administrator, trying to establish eye contact for a few seconds. But Chilton quickly looks away in the other direction, as if he had other pressing business to attend to. It's a ploy to block out his guest's inquisitive mind -- and not a well-executed one.

Diaz holds up his hands in a non-threatening gesture. "Just sayin'." He turns his attention back to Will: "So why come to see me, eh? I'm no one important."

Will couldn't agree more. "There are some questions that the FBI wants you to answer about unsolved homicides --"

Diaz snorts, a moist sound in the back of his throat. "Men like you don't come all the way out here to file paperwork. You looking for someone special?"

"I don't --"

But before he can even finish his thought, Chilton has called the guards from the security booth at the end of the hallway. "Aw, don't be like that, homes. I'm just messin' with you." But the guards have already unlocked the cell and are sticking the patient with a hypodermic needle full of sedative. He sags in their grasp; they toss him carelessly back onto the mattress.

"My apologies," Chilton says, his eyes flickering over to the patient, as if he was afraid that Diaz might wake up at any moment.

"Security issues?" Will stands up and quickly strides out of the ward, Chilton jogging along at his heels like a small terrier.

"Perhaps it would be best to send someone else next time."

"Do you know what he was talking about?"

"He's delusional."

"So you don't know?"

"No, of course I don't know," Chilton snaps. But Will notices that he glances over at a hallway barred by yellow construction tape as they pass by.

When they return to the lobby, Chilton tasks one of the guards with escorting their guest out to the parking lot ("just to be safe") and locks himself in his office. Will doesn't normally talk to the guards but this visit has left him feeling ill-at-ease: "Do you know what's happening in that hallway?"

"Which hallway?"

"The one under construction."

The guard shrugs nonchalantly. "It's been that way for about a year now. Might be some kind of asbestos. Never seen anyone come in to fix it though."

"Is that unusual?"

"Chilton's a cheap fucker."

"I'll take that as a 'no.'"

On his way back down I-170, Will can't help feeling that there's something down that hallway -- some vanishing point that he must walk towards.

Even at the risk of losing himself in the distance.

----------

Will Graham doesn't spend much time in courthouses. His own trial left him with a permanent aversion to legal proceedings (although he did manage to testify at his former psychiatrist's trial -- something about relishing in good old-fashioned peripeteia). Yet he finds himself slouched in the back of a courtroom, his sneakers scuffling against the checkerboard tiles, watching while ADA Melissa Flores grills a suspect about a convenience store robbery. While her dedication to winning the case might be laudable, a victory against the suspect -- an undereducated high school student with noticeably absent parents -- doesn't seem like something to be proud of. Will notices that, when the judge calls for a recess, her shoulders slump incrementally. He stands and makes his way up the aisle.

"ADA Flores?"

She turns around. "Yes?"

"Special Agent Will Graham, FBI."

No matter how many officiating labels he sticks around his name, everyone looks at him differently once he says "Will Graham." He's seen that look before, on adults who have just been given homemade baked goods by children. The pastries look all right -- but you can never be certain where they've been or what's actually inside of them. He sees that same critical look in Flores's eyes as she gives him a cursory once-over.

"What can I do for you, Agent Graham?"

"I wanted to ask you about one of your cases."

"I can't imagine that anything I'm working on would interest you much," she says, shuffling her papers into her briefcase. "I don't work on your kind of case."

By your kind of case, she means the psychopaths. The ones that swarm about Will Graham. As bees in honey drown.

"I'm interested in your case against the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane."

"That one didn't even see the inside of a courtroom."

"I heard that you didn't think the charges should have been dropped --"

"But they were. There wasn't enough evidence to bring the case to trial."

"What were the charges exactly?"

"We had them on records fraud. They were billing the government for services that were never being rendered to patients." Flores digs her cell phone out of her jacket pocket and swipes through some documents. "Look." She holds up her phone so that he can clearly see a medical bill. "This is a bill for an inmate's appendectomy. But we have a death certificate for this inmate, filed three months before this bill was processed."

"Maybe someone was remiss about filing the paperwork?"

"That's why the case never went to trial. But I've met Frederick Chilton. He's the type of man who would upcode or unbundle his medical claims; he'd try to wrangle every cent that he could out of the government for his own financial gain. He wouldn't forget to file paperwork, especially when there's money involved."

"So . . . he just made up the claim to get the government payout?"

"Either that or they performed an appendectomy on a dead man."

It takes a few seconds before Will feels the bottom of his stomach drop out.

"How did you stumble on this paperwork?"

"One of the junior administrators on the maximum security ward. She sent us the file but refused to say anything else. Not like she needed to. The implications were more than clear." Flores's cell phone vibrates, and she checks the screen. "I have to cut this conversation short. I have a meeting with a judge before court's back in session and --"

"Do you remember her name?"

"Daylin Gordan. I can have my assistant forward you her contact information if you want to have a go." Flores hoists her briefcase up onto her shoulder. "You're probably not going to have any luck though. She seemed reticent to come forward."

"I'll take my chances."

Flores's words linger with him as he wanders out into the hallway: Either that or they performed an appendectomy on a dead man. He's certain that Flores must be right, that there's nothing more to the case than some fraud being perpetrated by the decidedly inept Dr. Chilton. Someone in the billing and coding department probably mixed up the paperwork, not realizing that there was a scam going on. But if this was just about skimming a little off the top, then why would Chilton look so perturbed by his presence? Why would he be personally escorted through the hallways?

What if they had performed an appendectomy on a dead man?

Will sits in the parking lot for a long time. He turns on the engine so that the squeaking tug of the windshield wipers can keep him company. His fingers tightly grip the rubber of the steering wheel as he looks out at the streets of Arlington. A little girl in galoshes jumps into a puddle, muck-brown rainwater splashing up onto her opaque white tights; her mother, loaded down with brown paper grocery bags, yells something at her while struggling to open the door of their SUV.

What if the appendectomy bill wasn't the fraudulent paperwork?

What if the death certificate was?

A cardboard carton of eggs tumbles out of one of the bags and splatters onto the cement. Will watches while the perforated yolks are washed down the gutter.

He takes out his cell phone and calls Alana Bloom.

"I think the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane has been forging death certificates."

There's silence on the other end of the line. A fragment of eggshell has gotten caught in the grate.

"Will . . ." Alana exhales deeply around the lone syllable of his name. "I can't even begin to imagine what you've been feeling over the past few months --"

Will presses the button to end the call.

His phone rings non-stop for the next few minutes. He does not answer. He watches sediment from the road crash into the eggshell until the cracks become too much. It crumples under the pressure and is washed away in the deluge.

----------

He tracks Daylin Gordan down to the hospital where she works. It's a suburban strip mall of a medical facility with plastic ferns potted in every nook and cranny. He waits for her outside of the administrative offices, re-reading the text messages that Alana sent him last night:

- Call me.
- I'm worried about you.
- Please.

He didn't call her.

"Mr. Graham?"

He deletes the messages and pockets his phone.

"You wanted to see me?"

Daylin stands in front of him. She's wearing an ill-fitting suit that she bought at a discount shopping center, paired with neon vinyl pumps. Her bracelets are gold-plated. He likes her immediately.

"Yes, I'm from the FBI."

"I'm not going to talk about that case," she says quickly, edging backwards towards the office.

"I'm not here to build a case against your former employer."

"Then why are you here?"

"I'm looking for someone."

"Who are you looking for?"

"A friend."

He didn't plan the response. And now that it's hanging between them, fetid in the sterilized air, he regrets opening his mouth.

"I don't know if I can help you. I'm sorry, Mr. Graham."

"Just tell me what's down that hallway."

She stares down at the industrial carpeting, fiddling with the bangles around her wrists. One of them is an add-a-bead bracelet, heavy with dangling charms.

"You should come into the office," she says quietly, gesturing him towards the door.

Her office, probably a converted supply closet, has been stocked to the brim with useless knickknacks -- garishly-painted wooden cat statuettes, felt-covered mouse figurines, plastic toys that came with fast food meals, and hand-painted teacups. Will picks up one of the teacups and turns it over in his hands; there's a sizable chip near the handle.

"I have two kids at home," she shrugs. "It's hard to keep anything nice."

"I understand."

"You have kids?"

"I have dogs."

Daylin hesitates for a moment before saying, "I shouldn't be telling you anything . . ."

"Please. What's down that hallway?"

"Patients."

That's all that Will needs to know. He should leave the office now. But, for some reason, he can't stop himself:

"What kind of patients?"

"Ones that no one will come looking for."

"He falsifies the death certificates."

"Yes."

"And what does he do with these patients?"

She rubs her thumb down the back of one of the felt-covered mice, refusing to look at her guest.

"Do you know anything about lobotomies, Mr. Graham?"

----------

"I want to see Hannibal Lecter."

They're in Chilton's office. His former psychiatrist sits opposite him, fingers steepled together, as though he'd been anticipating this visit for a while now. Research journals, index tabs sticking out haphazardly, lay scattered on his desk; Will notices that many of them have been flipped to the submissions guidelines. Despite his lack of intellectual prowess, there can be little doubt that Chilton works diligently. It's almost pathetic how he's continually outsmarted by his own patients.

"That will be difficult seeing as he's deceased."

"We both know that's not true."

"I faxed over the death certificate myself."

"The death certificate is fraudulent."

"I would like to see you prove that. The DA's office certainly couldn't."

Will lets out a stuttering breath, like he's just been punched hard in the gut. "He's still alive."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

But Will's almost doubled over, trapped underneath the suffocating pressure of his certainty. He imagines this must be what decompression sickness feels like. In their rush to grasp at the light, wavering and unsteady on the surface of the water, divers sometimes climb too far too fast. Gaseous bubbles migrate throughout their bodies, and then the bends, the chokes, the staggers set in. Slowly, they begin to sink . . .

"Tell me what you've done."

"I haven't done anything." Chilton rises from his chair and strides towards the door. "You seem like you're having a delusional episode, Agent Graham. Perhaps a psychotic break. If you don't want me to have you admitted, I'd suggest that you leave."

Will, still staggered, takes his phone out of his pocket. "If you take one more step, I will call the FBI. I will get a search warrant for that hallway downstairs. You don't have time to evacuate all of those patients."

"There's nothing down there --"

"You will be arrested. You will spend the rest of your life in prison."

"You don't have any evidence."

"I have friends who owe me favors."

Chilton pauses, his palm still wrapped around the door handle.

"I don't want you to spend the rest of your life in prison, Frederick. I just want you to take me to see Hannibal Lecter."

"And then?"

"First things first."

So Chilton leads him down the stairs, ducking underneath the construction tape strung across the hallway entrance. The hallway appears deserted at first -- janitorial supplies have been strewn about the floor, overturned buckets and discarded mops. There are name plaques on the doors, claiming the space for doctors from a bygone era. But as they continue walking, the closed-off offices give way to observation rooms. The two-way glass reveals whitewashed walls with fluorescent light panels embedded into the ceilings. Nondescript beige carpeting has been installed.

Chilton stops suddenly, right before reaching the last observation room on the left.

"Are you certain that you want to see him?"

Will takes a few steps forward, passing his erstwhile psychiatrist, and peers in through the glass.

A man sits cross-legged on the carpet, flipping through a magazine, glancing absently at the photographs. He looks unkempt: his cheeks and jawline have accumulated a healthy thatch of white-blonde stubble, his graying hair curls up at the back of his neck. A pair of thick glasses, with heavy black squared rims, slides down his nose. He suddenly tosses the magazine across the room and begins picking at the loose strands of yarn on the carpet.

"What have you done?" Will asks under his breath. He unconsciously raises his hand, just a fraction of an inch, towards the glass.

"An experimental lobotomy. Quite successful actually. We've managed to wipe out all of his episodic memory through concentrated trauma to the hippocampus. And we've corrected his personality disorder through lesions on his temporal and frontal lobes, rendering him completely harmless."

"What have you done?"

"It's not a complete wash," Chilton reassures him, as if that somehow makes the situation better. "Semantic memory and procedural memory are both still intact. He doesn't know his name, but he does know how to sauté bell peppers." Chilton chuckles a little bit at that, as if anything about this situation could be misconstrued as humorous.

As Will stares through the glass, Chilton steps behind him, leaning in close. "So you see, Agent Graham, the death certificate wasn't a complete fabrication. Hannibal Lecter, as you know him, no longer exists."

Will doesn't understand his own reaction -- but he has to swallow down a throatful of lukewarm bile. "I want to talk to him."

"He won't remember you."

"I want to talk to him."

Chilton holds up his palms in a gesture of surrender and unlocks the door. Hannibal briefly glances up at them before returning to the much more interesting yarn that's unraveling from the carpet. "Hannibal, you have a visitor," Chilton announces firmly. When Hannibal still doesn't respond, he approaches him and gently unlatches his fingers from the yarn. When Hannibal reaches back towards the carpet, Chilton simply pulls him up and guides him over to the table in the middle of the observation room. He sits down in one of the metal chairs, opposite his visitor.

"This is Will Graham," Chilton announces and, despite the fact that he's vouched for the complete eradication of Hannibal's episodic memory, he still pauses for a moment -- as though there might be some hint of recognition.

But there's nothing. Hannibal slips down off of his chair and crawls back over to his spot on the carpet, tugging once again at the loose strands of yarn.

"See? A complete waste of your time."

But when Chilton opens the door, Will can't bring himself to get up from the table.

"He doesn't know who you are," Chilton reiterates. "You mean nothing to him."

"Is there any . . ." Will gestures vaguely. "Is there any way to fix him?"

"He's already been fixed."

"You know what I mean."

"He had part of his brain surgically removed."

Hannibal has managed to yank an entire ball of yarn free from the carpet by this time. He rolls the yarn into a ball between his index finger and thumb -- and sticks the lint-coated fibers into his mouth. He swallows thickly before returning to his task. His glasses fall onto the carpet, and he doesn't even seem to notice.

"I can't watch this," Will says suddenly. He tries standing up but his thighs feel wasted, the muscles saturated and swollen with lactic acid. He stumbles back down into the chair before trying once again. When he's out in the hallway, his back turned towards the observation room, he asks: "What's going to happen to him?"

"He'll stay here. We'll monitor his progress closely." Chilton leans against his cane, aware of how agitated his guest has become. "You have to understand that we're looking for a cure here. Many successful lobotomies were performed back before they were determined to be obsolete. With the technology that we have now, we can approach this surgical procedure with much greater precision. Of course, with the lack of funding at our institution, the techniques that we're using are a bit more primitive. But still, there's no reason why men like Hannibal Lecter have to exist, not when we can strip away their psychopathy --"

"Are you seriously trying to justify yourself?"

"You're not going to tell anyone." Even though Chilton frames it as a statement, it's clearly a question.

"I want to see him again."

Chilton weighs his options.

"I think that we can come to an arrangement."

Chapter Text

Two. Medulla Oblongata.

Three weeks pass.

Will Graham doesn't return to the hospital.

Instead, he drives down to the Piankatank River each afternoon with his fishing gear in tow. Standing in the center of the stream, the blackwater tides lapping against the brims of his rubber boots, he casts his lure out into the choppy waters. He no longer constructs his own lures out of pop tabs and loose buttons, not after being arrested and learning that most of the incriminating evidence against him was planted in his craft-work. Instead, he makes a weekly sojourn out to a retail store in Arlington. The clerks know him on-sight by now -- the oddly reticent angler who knows just how to hook the perch and the pickerel. He buys soft plastic slugs in bright colors. They're nowhere near as effective as his handmade lures, but they also bring back fewer unpleasant memories.

He's using two of his top-water lures today: a bright pink slug and a bright orange slug, both tied on with five-turn double clinch knots. He casts the lures out into the distance, jerking the tip of his rod at varying speeds, causing the slugs to slither along the surface of the water. But nothing's biting today. Despite the fact that he can see the redbreast sunfish swarming around his heels, he's unable to hook them.

"Any luck?"

He looks up to see one of the novices from the retail store. This branch of the Piankatank traditionally goes unfrequented by local fishermen, especially during work hours, but every now and then, someone comes wandering by. He's clutching a cooler of beer, fishing rod propped over his shoulder.

"Not today," Will sighs, reeling his lures back in.

"This spot any good?"

"Sometimes." Will neglects to mention that he considers this stretch of the stream one of the rare untapped honey holes of the Chesapeake Bay. He pulls a spray bottle out of a pocket in his vest, saturating each lure with a few spritzes.

"What's in that stuff?" the angler asks, stumbling down onto the bank. He appears to have already polished off a few beers from his six-pack. Not that he's the first inebriated fisherman to try to make a catch in the Piankatank, but Will takes this sport seriously. And he's already in a lousy mood because the fish aren't biting.

"Salt for the scent. Glitter to catch the light."

"You're real good at this, huh?"

"I come around here a lot."

"Wanna beer?" he asks, plopping his cooler down onto the marshy banks. He takes out a can of watered-down beer and pops the tab, gulping a few ounces. He picks up another one and holds it out to his new-found fishing buddy.

"No thanks. I try to only fish sober."

"Why would you want to do a thing like that?"

"Because I like to catch fish."

The angler laughs, slapping the coated nylon of his waterproof pants. He watches while Will shifts his position slightly, approaching the remnants of a broken-down bridge.

"What'cha doing?"

"Fish tend to cluster in areas where they can hide -- rock piles, bridges, docks, around ledges and drop-offs. So if you're not catching anything, chances are you're not standing the right spot." He casts his lure so that it's in position right underneath the cinder-block structure of the bridge.

"So what do we do now?"

"We wait."

"For how long?"

"As long as it takes."

"Aren't you going to shake the lure around a little?"

"No, we just stay perfectly still and wait for something to come our way."

The angler stands on the grass for a few minutes, waiting for something to tug on the end of Will's hook. But nothing comes.

"Fucking boring, man," he declares. "I'm going to head upstream where the real fish are waiting." He shuts his cooler and walks away down the banks of the Piankatank. Will knows that he won't have any better luck upstream; he's not going to have any luck at all until he learns how to be patient. He twitches his rod slightly, causing the lure to jiggle in the water, and then goes still once again. It's not long before he feels a sharp tug at the end of his line. He reels in a redbreast sunfish, the hook poking through its upper jaw. He unhooks the fish and tosses it into a water-filled bucket that's waiting on the shore. He'll need to clean the fish soon; keeping it in the bucket for too long will cause stress.

Stress produces chemicals.

Makes the meat less palatable.

He stands there for a few moments, the blackwater rushing by him, the sparrows chirping insistently overhead, before he wades back to shore. Back to the bucket where his catch waits for him. He watches the redbreast sunfish flopping around, trying to identify any means of getting past the foreign plastic barriers. His freedom suddenly constricted to a five-gallon bucket.

Will picks up the bucket and tosses its contents, catch and all, back into the Piankatank River.

He watches while the redbreast sunfish swims away.

On his way back home, Will gets onto the I-170 and gets off at exit 35. He pulls up in front of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, the gravel crunching underneath the tires of his car. The receptionist escorts him into Dr. Chilton's office.

"We weren't expecting you."

"Finished up early. Thought I'd drop by."

"Still, we'd appreciate it if you'd call ahead from now on."

"I'll try."

"You want to see him?"

Will nods, a little uncertainly.

"Follow me then."

Chilton leads him down into the basement of the facility, through the hallway to the observation room. Hannibal's sprawled out on the carpeted floor, working on what appears to be a coloring book. The blunt end of a Crayola crayon rests against his lower lip as he surveys his work. "He likes it when the staff joins him," Chilton offers, unlocking the door. At Will's confused look, he clarifies: "Coloring. He likes it when the staff colors with him."

Will wonders if it's too late to go back home.

The door closes behind him, and Will Graham finds himself alone in a room with Hannibal Lecter. How many of his night-terrors have revolved around this very theme? Admittedly, his night-terrors never involved a 64-color box of Crayola crayons before -- but, standing here unacknowledged, watching his former psychiatrist shade in the border, Will has to concede that he finds this tableau disturbing in its own way. If Hannibal was completely unrecognizable, he wouldn't mind so much. But there are remnants of him everywhere that Will looks -- from the precision of his handiwork to the exactness with which he chooses the pigments, varying the gradient within each miniature shape to replicate the way that the light would fall in this imaginary world. He imagines that these pages, with their daedal geometric patterns (resembling the stained glass from a cathedral), provide an acceptable substitute for the lack of a view. He wonders if Hannibal could still render drawings in charcoal, or if he's been relegated to filling in other artist's designs for the rest of his life.

Will slowly makes his way towards his former psychiatrist. "Hannibal?" His voice is quieter, more guarded, than he'd intended.

Hannibal doesn't respond. So Will kneels down on the carpet next to him. "Hannibal?" he tries again, a little louder this time.

Still no response. So Will selects a crayon and positions himself on the opposite side of the coloring book. He gingerly rests the tip of the crayon against the paper, waiting for any sign of complaint. But Hannibal doesn't even seem to notice he's there, so he begins coloring. It's almost farcical. He can remember so clearly sitting opposite this man, entrenched in their own brand of warfare. Their relationship was built on psychological manipulation and intellectual adroitness, each of them always trying to stay one step ahead of the opposition. To see all of that antipathy and ardor reduced to two men playing with crayons . . .

Will stays there, coloring, for the better part of an hour.

Hannibal says nothing.

But when Will gets up to leave, Hannibal rips the completed page out of the coloring book, along the perforated line, and slides it across the floor towards him. "Thanks," Will says, folding the page up so that it fits inside his wallet.

Hannibal doesn't even look up.

He's already moved on to the next page.

----------

Will comes back almost every day after that. He spends an hour, sometimes more, coloring with Hannibal. He buys new crayons -- watercolors, pastels, chalks -- from the art supply store down in Stafford. He also buys dozens of cheap wooden frames for the coloring book pages that have started cluttering up his walls at home. Although the hospital staff has assured him that Hannibal can talk and that, on occasion, he does talk, he has yet to say a single word to Will. In fact, he hardly acknowledges Will outside of passing him their joint work product at the end of each session. Once, Will asks Chilton for some scotch tape and hangs up one of the coloring book pages on the wall of the observation room -- as if leaving a physical reminder of himself might help reconstruct Hannibal's mangled memory. When he comes back the next day, the coloring book page has been removed.

"He asked me to give it to you," Chilton says, offering him the page, tape still adhered to the edges.

Will feels mildly offended that Hannibal feels more comfortable talking to Chilton nowadays.

It's a blustery afternoon in March, with slate-gray skies and muddy grounds, when Will decides to switch up their arts and crafts session. When he enters the observation room, he picks up all of the crayons and coloring books, tossing them onto the metal table. Hannibal starts to stand up, intent on retrieving them, but Will lays a steady palm on his shoulder.

It's the first time that he's touched Hannibal in years.

Hannibal doesn't move.

He takes out plastic bags full of colorful feathers and plastic beads and bottlecaps and buttons. He has plastic lacing in over thirty different colors with craft scissors for cutting. And, most importantly, he has twine and eyelets and split rings and hooks. "We're going to make fishing lures," he tells Hannibal, selecting some supplies from his pile. He demonstrates how to make one, taking out a magnifying glass when he realizes that Hannibal's inexplicably myopic eyesight might be a hindrance.

But once they start working, he realizes that a demonstration wasn't necessary. Procedural memory remains intact. Hannibal has made masterful fishing lures before -- out of far more macabre materials.

At one point, Hannibal puts out his palm expectantly, waiting for a bead. He'll occasionally do this during their coloring sessions, permitting Will to choose his crayons for him. Chilton tells him that these moments are textbook trust-building exercises -- that every time Will makes an acceptable choice, he goes a little bit farther towards bridging the divide between the two of them. Will asks him what would constitute an "acceptable choice" in this context.

"Understanding complimentary colors?" Chilton shrugs. "How should I know?"

Will spends that night studying color wheels on the Internet.

He glances over at the palette of the lure before dropping a powder-blue bead into Hannibal's palm. He expects Hannibal to keep working . . . but his palm remains outstretched.

"The red one, please."

It takes Will a moment to process what he's just heard. The voice is a little bit weathered, probably from disuse, but the old-world accent permeating all of the words remains unmistakable. He stares at Hannibal.

"What?"

But Hannibal just keeps his palm tilted upwards on the table until Will puts a red bead in the center. Hannibal's fingers close tightly around his keepsake. "Thank you," he says, returning to his work.

Those are the last words that Will hears from him that day.

Hannibal doesn't offer his fishing lures to Will. Instead, he makes a small gallery on top of a black-and-white composition book. "Aren't you worried about leaving him with sharp objects?" Will asks.

"No," Chilton says curtly, leading him out to the parking lot.

He hasn't told anyone about Hannibal's miraculous resurrection, of course. But his co-workers have started to notice that something's different. "You look . . . better," Zeller tells him obliquely. They're in the middle of an autopsy, camphor ointment rubbed under their nostrils, wrist-deep in viscera and entrails.

"Thanks?"

"No, I mean it, Graham. We were starting to get worried."

Will sincerely doubts that Zeller was starting to get worried. But he has started to feel better. There are no more restless nights soaked in perspiration, no more workdays burdened with unpleasant thoughts (or, at least, nothing outside of the few hours that he spends writing his lectures). The arts and crafts sessions have been almost . . . therapeutic for him.

How ironic.

Hannibal continues to be taciturn -- but he does start saying a few words every evening. They're just small re-directions at first: the green feather, the hook on the right, the magnifying glass, please.

Then he begins to add pleasantries:

"Good afternoon, Will."

The first time that Hannibal says his name, he actually has to leave the observation room. He finds himself struck breathless, like his lungs could not possibly take in enough oxygen to fill the emptiness that's rapidly expanding throughout his ribcage. He feels physically overcome by . . . sadness. By a sadness that causes him to crumple against the hallway wall, that glues half-formed words in the back of his throat.

"Are you alright?" Chilton asks -- and then, realizing what's upset him so much: "The staff mentions you often. He's learned your name by now."

Will remains silent.

"So when he says your name, that doesn't mean anything. He doesn't remember you."

Will takes out his wallet and removes the coloring book page from their first session, spreading it out on the tiled floor and smoothing the creases with the fingertips. "He told me once that if he was ever captured, he would live in his memory palace. He described the entryway to me, but I was . . . distracted. There was a mosaic on the floor, I think." Will leans against the wall, knocking the back of his scalp against the plaster. "He told me that he'd be all right as long as he could reside there."

"You feel guilt."

"We dropped an atomic bomb on his memory palace."

"You knew him. Better than anyone else. Do you think he would be any better off if we'd left his memories intact?"

Will watches through the glass, as Hannibal wraps thread around the hook shank. He snips the end with a pair of craft scissors before holding the completed lure up to the light, admiring his craftsmanship. "I wonder where he spends his time now. I wonder if we've left him wandering around in a wasteland, picking through the blown-out ruins of what used to be his mind for anything that might look familiar. I wonder if that mosaic from the entryway has shattered into chips and slivers of tile that can never be reassembled."

"You're not going to get him back, Will. It's physically impossible. But that doesn't mean that his life's over."

"What does he have now?"

Hannibal carefully installs the new fishing lure in his gallery before standing up to examine them. There's over a dozen now -- laid out in meticulous rows, all of them adhering to what he now recognizes as a split-complimentary color scheme. One base color, two colors adjacent to its compliment. Hannibal clasps his hands behind his back, and Will can see the strength that's still clenched in the muscles of his shoulders and the refinement that's languishing in the curvatures of his spine. Hannibal turns his head slightly, and even though the only thing that Hannibal can see in the two-way glass is his reflection, the two of them appear to share a moment of eye contact.

"He has you," Chilton says, turning to leave.

----------

Things change that summer.

Hannibal has become fidgety. He spends less time working on their art projects and more time scrutinizing the two-way glass. At first, Will thinks that he might be studying his reflection; he imagines that Hannibal might notice the discrepancies between what he's become and what he once was. He wonders sometimes what his Hannibal might make of this Hannibal: the slouched posture and neglected grooming and occasionally vacant countenance. But eventually he realizes that Hannibal's trying to look past the glass. "Has he ever been outside?" Will asks Chilton one day, jogging down the stairs to the basement.

"We don't let them out."

"Why not? I mean, if they're not endangering anyone . . ."

"I'm not worried about them, I'm worried about me. If anyone saw Hannibal Lecter taking a late afternoon stroll around the grounds, my career would be over."

"I think he's going a little stir-crazy."

"He's different from the rest of them." They glance into the observation room next to Hannibal's. The patient, a scraggly, grizzled man in his mid-forties, stands with his forehead pressed against the glass. A stream of drool drips off of his chin, forming a dark splotch on the carpeting below. "It took us a while to get the procedure correct."

"You saved Hannibal for last."

"Consider it a peer-to-peer courtesy."

The idea comes out of nowhere. It's unexpected, unsolicited, and absolutely unwelcome. They're painting balsa wood boxes one afternoon, mainly so that Hannibal will have somewhere to put his growing collection of fishing lures, when Will suddenly has this photo-finish vision, bright as Technicolor, flash across his mind. Hannibal. In his backyard. Playing catch with his dogs. Will. Sitting on his porch. Fixing a motor. Black oil smudged along the edge of his thumb.

Smiling.

Will glimpses his reflection in the two-way glass: fissures of scar tissue branching out along his cheek, a glazed pink that stands in stark contrast to his natural swarthiness. He presses his thumb against one of the ridges . . . He's already done his charitable work. Just showing up here every day has been more than enough. Someone else will have to worry about if Hannibal Lecter's getting enough fresh air.

But on the drive home, that image won't fade from his mind. It stays sharply resolved, in high-definition, playing on a continual loop. He unconsciously begins to add embellishments. Two bottles of beer. The cheap kind that he can buy at CVS. The portable radio playing instrumental music. Interrupted by ads for gas stations and chain restaurants. Hannibal wearing his beige courderoy jacket with the fleece lining, the one that he keeps on the hook in the hallway. And they're both smiling . . .

He falls asleep to that image.

He doesn't go back to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for the rest of that week.

He invites Alana Bloom over for dinner instead. They order take-out from a Thai restaurant and drag the cushions from the couch onto the hardwood floor. He lights candles and puts them in tin cans that he's poked holes into with an awl. The pinpricks of light make patterns on the walls and on the couch and on her blue wrap dress. She's used to the finer things in life, he knows, like restaurants where you need to make a reservation four months in advance or hire a native guide to escort you to your table. But even though Alana has been wined and dined by far more epicurean gentlemen (including the esteemed Dr. Lecter himself), she seems to enjoy the homemade, laissez-faire (read: mildly destitute and utterly disorganized) ambiance of Chez Graham.

"Are you all right, Will?" she asks, over a spoonful of curry.

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"You just seem distant lately. Like there's something on your mind."

"I've . . ." He pauses, wanting desperately to tell her (anyone really) about what's happened but knowing that he can't. Not yet. "I've been coloring."

"So I see." The second page that he completed with Hannibal hangs right behind her -- pinpricks of light swaying over a kaleidoscope of waxy colors. The first one stays tucked in his wallet, concealed behind his credit cards and driver's license.

"And I've been thinking. About what life might be like if I stopped teaching at the FBI. Maybe settled down with someone else."

"Looking for something simpler?" she asks, shifting closer. It's only a few centimeters -- but Will notices.

"Maybe."

When Alana kisses him, he doesn't pull away.

And everything is breathtakingly normal.

----------

He starts dating Alana Bloom. He starts ignoring the sign for the I-170 on his way to work. He starts taking down the coloring book pages -- until Alana tells him that she likes them, and that he should keep them up. "I never knew you were so good with color," she smiles, re-hanging one of them next to the couch. She stays over so frequently that he cleans out a drawer of his dresser so that she can keep a few sets of clothes there. Sometimes, when she decides to go back to her own apartment after dinner or when she has to work late at the college, he wraps his pillow in one of her cashmere sweaters -- sleeping with his nose pressed up against the fabric, inhaling the traces of her scent that have been absorbed by the fibers.

He's almost settled into coupled life when he receives the first letter. He recognizes the handwriting immediately, that gilded calligraphy, and hides it underneath the coupons insert in The Fairfax Times.

"Do you still want to go out to dinner tonight?" Alana asks, toweling off her hair from the shower. She's wearing one of Will's terrycloth bathrobes; it hangs off of her shoulders.

"I'm not sure. Jack just texted. Homicide investigation."

The lie comes effortlessly.

"You don't work for him anymore. Don't let him take advantage."

"He just wants me to take a look."

"That's what I'm worried about, Will." She slips into one of her wrap dresses, shaking out her still-damp hair. "Call me if you change your mind."

She kisses him. He rests one palm against the curve of her cheek, keeps the other palm firmly pressed against The Fairfax Times.

The moment the door closes behind her, Will takes out the envelope. He imagines the trouble that Hannibal must have gone through trying to acquire an envelope and postage from the hospital staff. He wonders if his address has been stored in Hannibal's procedural memory, the pen-strokes internalized by his anatomy. Or maybe Hannibal simply asked one of the security guards.

He opens the envelope and tips it upside-down.

A fishing lure falls onto the kitchen table.

He goes back to the hospital that evening. When he enters the observation room, Hannibal doesn't turn to look at him -- his eyes fixed stoically on the two-way glass.

"I don't know what you want from me."

Hannibal doesn't respond.

"My entire life can't revolve around you. I'm trying to move on with someone else."

He thinks that Hannibal stiffens slightly at that -- but he can't be sure.

"I'll still come and visit. I'm not going to just leave you here . . ."

"Take me home."

The words are barely a whisper, almost lost underneath the rattle of the air conditioner.

"What?"

"Take me home."

Will leaves the question -- where is home? -- unasked, knowing already that Hannibal won't be able to answer. He imagines that he could take Hannibal anywhere, tell him that he's home, and Hannibal would nod and accept the statement as truth. He imagines that he could tell Hannibal anything about himself, and he wouldn't question a single word.

The world is suddenly filled with possibilities.

But he just can't.

"Do you remember me?"

"You're Will Graham."

But Hannibal obviously doesn't remember him at all.

"Please?"

"I can't."

He starts receiving an envelope every day after that. He rearranges his mornings so that he's waiting by the mail slot when the postman makes the delivery. The envelopes usually contain fishing lures, but sometimes Hannibal includes other projects as well. Coloring book pages. Sun-catchers. Handmade soaps.

After a few weeks, Hannibal starts including letters.

Dear Will,

. . . the first one reads . . .

I would like for you to come back and visit me.

Sincerely,
Hannibal

He doesn't know what to do with this brand of incriminating evidence -- not just a trinket made from a craft kit but an actual letter. Signed by a deceased serial killer. So he takes out his lighter and burns it over the kitchen sink.

Dear Will,

. . . the second one reads . . .

I would like for you to come back and visit me.

Sincerely,
Hannibal

He keeps this one tucked in his jacket pocket for a few hours -- just while he runs errands at the grocery store and cooks dinner for Alana. Then he burns it, once again, over the kitchen sink.

Dear Will,

. . . the third one reads . . .

My days are exceedingly dull without you. Please come back and visit me.

Sincerely,
Hannibal

This one makes him chuckle. So he keeps it underneath a loose floorboard in the living room.

Dear Will,

. . . the fourth one reads . . .

I have run out of craft supplies. Please come back and visit me.

Sincerely,
Hannibal

The envelope is empty apart from the letter. Will does not return to the hospital -- but he does send a package full of craft supplies.

Dear Will,

. . . the fifth one reads . . .

Dr. Chilton tried coloring with me today. Find his thoroughly insufficient attempt enclosed.

Sincerely,
Hannibal

Inside, there's a mauve and yellow paisley pattern that's been carelessly ripped out of a coloring book. Will actually grabs a legal pad this time, starts jotting down a first sentence: Obviously, Dr. Chilton's no better at coloring than he is at psychiatry . . . but he stops himself, crumples up the paper, and shoves the letter (and Dr. Chilton's coloring book page) underneath the loose floorboard.

Dear Will,

. . . the sixth one reads . . .

I would like for you to come back and visit me.

Sincerely,
Hannibal

On his way home from work, Will gets onto the I-170 -- but he gets off at Keedysville. He orders a cup of black coffee at a diner, trying to ignore the scent of ketchup that permeates the vinyl covering the booths, and then goes back home.

Dear Will,

. . . the seventh one reads . . .

Written for you.

Sincerely,
Hannibal

The envelope contains a single page of sheet music, entitled "Sonatina in C Major." He photocopies the page, carefully blackening out the "Hannibal Lecter" written to the right of the title with a broad-tipped permanent marker. He goes to a music store in Baltimore after work, explains that the music was composed for him, and offers a salesman $20 to play it on their grand piano.

It's intimate in its simplicity. There's no bid for showmanship here -- no impressive appoggiaturas or glissandos or trills, despite the fact that Hannibal has a background in Baroque music. Despite the fact that he usually composes for a harpsichord where such embellishments are necessary to sustain the notes. No, this was written knowing that Will would take it into a music store on the corner of Bishops Lane and Ingleside Avenue. A store that probably wouldn't even have a harpsichord. This was written knowing that Will has simple tastes -- and that a few melancholy notes, played slowly and softly, will go farther than all of the flourishes in the world. How Hannibal Lecter could have such an instinctual understanding of his tastes and proclivities, he doesn't entirely understand.

Will listens to it -- and then offers to pay $20 to hear it again. The salesman turns on the digital recorder on Will's cell phone and plays the song one more time, free of charge. That night, Will falls asleep with the notes of the sonatina playing through his headphones.

Dear Will,

. . . the eighth one reads . . .

You are missed.

Sincerely,
Hannibal

Will tucks this letter into his pillowcase. He doesn't know why.

Dear Will,

. . . the ninth one reads . . .

Dr. Chilton tells me that you will not come back.

Sincerely,
Hannibal

Will invites Alana Bloom over to his house for dinner. They order take-out from a nearby Italian restaurant. He picks some of the wildflowers that grow in his backyard and puts them in an empty milk carafe. Alana's finally up for tenure at Georgetown University; she's going before the review committee next week. (Always an academic of impeccable integrity, she refused to write any articles about the Chesapeake Ripper in the aftermath -- despite the pressure from her fellow psychiatrists, notable publishers, and her department chair. Her tenure will be achieved on her terms. Something Will admires to no small extent.)

"This is comfortable," Alana says, pouring herself a glass of red wine. It's the same brand that Hannibal used to drink with him after their sessions. He doesn't mention it; he wonders if she notices.

"I wanted to talk to you about something."

"What?"

"I need to leave town for a while."

"May I ask why?"

"There's something that I need to take care of."

"For how long?"

"I'm not sure." He puts down his wine, watching while the liquor settles into a stagnated pond at the bottom of the glass. "There's a possibility that I could be gone for a while."

"A while like a couple of weeks?"

"A while like a couple of years."

Alana sighs and leans back in her chair. Her expression aches with resignation, as though she'd known this moment was coming for a while now. "I'm not going to get any more details out of you, am I?"

He looks down at the kitchen table. "I wish that I could tell you more. And that I could stay here. And that I could start a life with you."

"Then why not?" she asks. It's not how most women would ask that question. There's no desperation in her voice. She's not trying to emotionally manipulate him. She's not trying to stall the inevitable or convince him otherwise.

"There's someone else."

"Is that someone else Hannibal Lecter?"

Will almost knocks over his wine glass -- but he manages to compose himself. "Hannibal Lecter's dead."

"That's what I mean. You're struggling to come to terms with the fact that he's gone." She hesitates before adding: "I don't think that you know how to live without him."

"He tried to kill me, Alana. More than once."

"I know. You weren't the only one." She rests her knuckles against her lips, as if she were trying to physically block the next set of words from coming out. "You're not the only one who's struggling, Will. He was my mentor; he was my . . . partner." The search for an appropriate word seems especially distasteful to her. "He was someone who I trusted implicitly, even when I doubted everyone else around me. Of course, I'll never be able to forgive him for everything that he did to you, to me . . . but it's difficult to erase a decade of friendship, regardless of what might have come after. There are moments when I still think of him fondly."

"What do you do?"

"Feel nauseous and continue on with my day." She takes one last sip of her wine. "I'm going to assume that this is goodbye?"

"For now."

"You'll understand if I don't wait up for you."

There's so much that he wants to say to her. About the way she bites her lower lip when she's editing student work, scribbling down notes in the margins with her red ballpoint pen. About the way that she always gets down on the carpet to play with the dogs, even if she's wearing a dress that's just been dry-cleaned. About the way she looks when she's sleeping next to him, mouth half-open and hair matted on the pillow. He wants to tell her about how he's been in love with her since the beginning.

But instead he just says: "Of course. Say hello to Applesauce for me."

And then she's gone.

----------

Dear Will,

. . . the tenth one reads . . .

I would like for you to come back and visit me.

Sincerely,
Hannibal

Will's packed all of his luggage and stacked the suitcases into the backseat of his car. And he's heading down the I-170, getting off at exit 35 for the final time. He walks past the receptionist's desk, straight into Chilton's office.

"Didn't we talk about making an appointment beforehand, Agent Graham?"

"I'm leaving for Florida."

"Good for you. Make sure that you see the keys while you're there."

"I'm taking Hannibal with me."

"No, you're most certainly not."

"He's not like your other patients," Will argues. "You can't keep him locked up in that cell for the rest of his life."

"How strange. Just a few months ago, you thought keeping him locked up in a cell was an excellent idea."

"He's had a lobotomy. He's suffered enough."

"It's not about suffering," Chilton says slowly, as if he were speaking to an especially dim-witted child. "It's about finding a cure."

"Do you think he's cured?"

"You're in my office asking if you can take Hannibal Lecter on vacation. Would you have done that before?" Chilton stands up and opens the door to his office. "Cured. Now if you please, I have an appointment."

Will slams the door, narrowly missing Chilton's knuckles. "Cured. So you may as well let him go."

"We still have work to do."

"I can get Freddie Lounds on the line in thirty seconds or less," Will says, taking out his cell phone. "What do you think her readers would make of your off-the-books foray into neurosurgery?"

Chilton hesitates. "You have to admit that we're making progress --"

"You have to admit that the public probably wouldn't like the idea of someone messing around in their heads."

"You would know."

They come to a standoff. Both of them waiting for the other to back down. Finally, Will looks down at his cell phone, flips through his contacts, and presses the call button.

"Wait."

He presses the end button.

"You get Hannibal Lecter. You don't call the FBI. You don't call Freddie Lounds. You don't come back to Maryland. Do we have a deal?"

"Of course."

He follows Chilton downstairs and into the observation room. "Goodbye, Hannibal," Chilton says curtly, standing aside. "Your friend has come to take you home."

Hannibal looks up from the carpet and sees Will.

He smiles.

Chapter Text

Three. Thalamus.

That's how Will Graham ends up with Hannibal Lecter sitting next to him on the fourteen-hour road trip to Sugarloaf Key, Florida. Hannibal's flipping through the only item that the hospital returned to him upon discharge: a leather wallet. He spends a solid thirty minutes staring at his Maryland state driver's license -- at the photograph of himself, wearing his trademark double windsor. Will notices him glancing in the rearview mirror at his beard and untrimmed bangs. He tries sweeping his fingers through his hair, pushing the wayward strands back into place, but they just slip back into his eyes. He eventually closes the wallet, abandoning the photograph of the stranger that used to be him.

"We can get you fixed up," Will reassures him. "When we get where we're going."

He remembers the last time the two of them took a road trip together, driving across the Minnesota prairie. It was winter. There was nothing but the cool blueness of snow in front of them and behind them. And the wooden crosses of the telephone poles, stretching towards god-given salvation, electric wires strung up between them. Sky blended into snow. Beside him, Hannibal kept a hand gently wrapped around Will's forearm -- as if to keep him from drifting away on the rising tide.

When they get onto the highway, he wraps his hand gently around Hannibal's forearm.

They stop at an airport motel in Greensboro. Somewhere with a constant inflow of tourists, where no one will pay much attention to them. The lobby feels almost clinical, from the low-pitched hum of the vending machines to the brochure racks stuffed with glossy trifolds. Will skims through an advertisement for the North Carolina State Fair as they wait for the clerk to finish checking in the customer in front of them. There's a photograph of a food vendor stand selling Deep Fried Snickers. He considers showing the photograph to Hannibal, who, in a former life, might have had something scathingly droll to say about deep frying discount chocolate, but he decides not to. Hannibal has been noticeably uncommunicative since they left the hospital.

When they arrive at the desk, the clerk doesn't even look up at them -- just continues multitasking at her keyboard. "Welcome to Greensboro. Mr . . ." She takes a cursory glance at his fake ID. "Miller. How may I help you?"

"I'd like a room for the night. Two beds."

"Of course." She pulls out a key card from underneath the countertop. "You'll be in Room 342. Will you be requiring a wake-up call?"

"That won't be necessary."

"Have a good night."

She never even looked at Hannibal, he thinks as they climb the stairs to their room. They might be able to make this work after all. He swipes the key card through the lock on the door, waiting until the green light starts blinking. The guest rooms are comfortable and generic; he has no doubt the same design has been replicated in thousands of motels across the nation. He could be in Juneau, Alaska or Salt Lake City, Utah, and he'd still be looking at the exact same beds -- doused in hospital grade bleach and covered in orange-striped comforters. He leaves the suitcases by the door, not bothering to unpack anything.

"Do you have a preference?" Will asks, motioning to the beds.

Hannibal sits down on the one closest to the door.

Will strips down to his boxer-briefs and undershirt and shuffles underneath the comforter. "Just turn out the light when you're ready for bed." He turns his back to Hannibal, battling against the years of experience telling him to keep his guard up, and closes his eyes.

"Are you going to stay with me?"

His eyes blink open but he keeps them firmly locked on the wall.

"What do you mean?"

"Wherever we're going. Are you going to stay with me once we get there?"

Will scratches the back of his neck. "I don't know. We'll see when we get there."

"Where are we going?"

"Florida. We'll find a house down there, something affordable. I have some savings that I can cash in . . ."

"You don't have to do that."

"Where else are you going to live?"

"I'll find somewhere."

"You'll find somewhere," Will scoffs, still staring at the stucco walls. "You barely even know your name."

"Hannibal."

"Great. Go to sleep."

The light clicks soon afterwards, casting the room into darkness.

----------

The next morning, when he rolls over to find Hannibal lying in the other bed, graying hair swept over his forehead and eyelashes fluttering in the depth of his sleep cycle, he feels a roiling nausea pass through him. He clenches down on the acidic burning in the pit of his stomach and takes a deep breath. You're going to be fine, he tells himself, disentangling himself from the covers. Just take this one minute at a time.

He spends more time than usual in the shower that morning. His hair feels greasy, no matter how many times he squeezes shampoo into his palm; there seems to be a layer of filmy scum coating his body that will not wash off. So he stands underneath the scalding water -- the condensation fogging up the bathroom mirror and the flesh on his shoulders becoming blotchy -- until he hears the door creak open.

"Will?"

"Yes, Hannibal?"

"We have to check out in twenty minutes."

"I'll be out in a second."

He listens for the sound of the door closing. Doesn't hear it.

"Yes, Hannibal?"

"I'd like to use the shower."

"I mean it. I'll be out in a second."

A few moments of silence. Then the door closes.

Will turns off the water and steps out of the shower, pulling a towel around his waist. Then he promptly bends over the toilet and throws up everything that he's eaten in the past twenty-four hours. When his stomach has been emptied, he stands up and looks at his reflection in the mirror. His hair hangs, damp and limp and greasy, in his eyes; there's vomit smeared across his chin, matted in the stubble. The flesh under his eyes looks puffy, inflamed. He rubs his palm across his face, as hard as he can, and flushes the toilet.

He opens the door.

"Are you all right?" Hannibal asks immediately. He's stripped down to the seersucker pajama bottoms that Will lent him. The cuffs constrict around his calf muscles, the fabric clings tightly to his thighs.

"You look ridiculous," Will says.

"They're not particularly comfortable either."

"I suppose I'm a bit too scrawny for us to be sharing clothes." Will snatches his jeans off of the shag carpeting and grabs a fresh pair of boxer-briefs from his suitcase. He's about to slip them on when he realizes that Hannibal's still watching him. "Didn't you want to use the shower?"

"Of course." Hannibal stands up and goes to the door but pauses for a moment, looking back at the towel wrapped around Will's waist. Will can't figure out what's got him so interested -- until he glances down and realizes that Hannibal can see the edges of the scarring on his abdomen. There's a gnarled knot of collagen emerging from underneath the terrycloth. He quickly adjusts the towel to cover the wound site. "Are you sure that you're all right, Will?"

"Yes, I'm sure. Go take your shower."

The door clicks shut. The sound of water pattering down from the shower-head. Will gets dressed, the rattling of the air conditioner making him all-too-aware of how muggy the weather will be when they get outside. He pulls on a short-sleeved henley, unbuttoning the neck, and then repacks the suitcases. By the time Hannibal exits the bathroom, Will's ready to leave.

"Get dressed," he says, tossing a stack of clothes to Hannibal. "We have to hit the road."

They drive throughout the day, stopping every now and then for fast food. He feels something akin to anxiety the first time that he passes Hannibal a grease-stained paper bag filled with Chicken McNuggets and Quarter Pounders. But Hannibal eats the synthetic meat without complaint, staring out the window the entire time. Watching while the maple trees give way to palms.

"How much do you remember?" he asks, as they pass a sign that says We're Glad Georgia's on Your Mind.

"Nothing."

"Really?"

"I remember how to perform certain tasks," he explains, dipping a nugget into honey mustard sauce. "Like playing the piano."

"You used to play the harpsichord."

"Oh." Hannibal chews the nugget, swallows, looks out the window. "They only had a piano at the hospital. I assumed that's what I played."

"You didn't."

"Do you want to tell me anything else about myself?" Hannibal asks, shifting around in his seat so that he's looking at Will. "You seem to have known me well."

"I . . ." Will pauses, considering what would be safest to tell Hannibal. "You were my therapist for a while. And then we became friends."

"Why were you in therapy?"

"I had a challenging job. Some of my co-workers thought that it would be a good idea if I talked to someone on a regular basis."

"What was this 'challenging job'?"

"I was a police officer," he lies. "I worked in narcotics in Washington, DC. Saw a lot of lives torn apart by drug abuse -- cocaine and heroin and meth. It became difficult to watch after a while."

"Did anyone in your family have a history of drug abuse?"

"No, I just understood what they were going through."

"You're empathetic."

Will pushes down a little bit harder on the accelerator.

"There's nothing wrong with being empathetic, especially in a profession like law enforcement," Hannibal assures him. "Your sensitivity enables you to establish a rapport with addicts, which would make you a valuable advocate. However, it's easy to see how a job like that could create undue stress in your life. I'm glad that you were seeking treatment, Will. I am, however, surprised that our relationship crossed the boundaries of doctor and patient. From what I observed at the hospital, developing a friendship with a patient would almost always be considered inappropriate."

Will abruptly wrenches the steering wheel to the right, pulling over to the side of the highway. He puts the car into park and then sits there, watching the SUVs and semitrailers speeding by in the summer heat.

"Have you been holding out on me?" he asks, biting his lower lip to keep from slamming Hannibal's forehead against the dashboard.

"What do you mean?"

"Where did all of that come from?"

"I listen to those around me," Hannibal says. "I read."

"You read," Will repeats, his fist clenched around the gear shift.

"Probably not as well as I used to."

Will suddenly feels warmth, pressure, on the hand that he's kept on the gear shift.

Hannibal's holding his hand.

"Please don't touch me," he whispers, his voice gravelly and unfamiliar.

Hannibal immediately removes his hand.

"Did we have a falling out?" Hannibal asks hesitantly.

"You could say that."

"And yet you still came to visit me."

"Yes."

He leaves the rest unspoken. That Will abandoned the life that he'd spent more than twenty years establishing so that he could rescue Hannibal. That Will cashed out his life savings so that Hannibal could start over again. That Will had driven his strays to the ASPCA the afternoon before they'd left town and had turned them over to the volunteers at the shelter. They had found a microchip implant in Winston, buried in the skin between his shoulder blades. He was registered as "Boomer" and belonged to the McFaddens of Chantilly, VA. They called the family while he was still signing the paperwork; he listened while a little girl squealed over the phone: "Boomer!" He waited for them to arrive. When a little girl with hair pinned back in barrettes came sprinting into the office, Winston ran straight towards her with a jubilant bark. Will didn't introduce himself to the family; he didn't know how he'd respond if asked why he hadn't taken their dog to the pound, to the veterinarian, to the police. So instead, he left the paperwork on the check-in desk and jogged out to the parking lot.

When he got back home, no one was there to greet him at the door.

"What was I doing in that hospital?"

"I can't answer that, Hannibal."

He shifts the car into drive and pulls back onto the highway.

"Please."

"Not now. Ask me later. Like when we have somewhere to live."

Hannibal goes back to looking out the window.

Will wonders if he can get through one more minute.

----------

They rent a motel room in Key West. There's a dingy pool outside of their window surrounded by strap chaise lounges, nylon threads beginning to fray. Hannibal sits by the window but never asks to go outside. He just watches the housekeeping staff as they stroll around the edges, skimming the water and dumping the rotten leaves and dead insects on the sidewalk. In the morning, Will meets with a real estate agent who shows him a small two-bedroom on the Sugarloaf Shores. There's a private dock on the canal outside. He makes a generous offer on the spot, which the sellers immediately accept. "Four weeks from offer to keys," the agent tells him, as they walk out to the driveway. "Do you have somewhere to stay?"

"We're in a motel for now. I guess we'll need to find something a little more long-term."

"Sublet," she says, grasping his wrist in her french manicured nails, suffocating him with the heavy fetor of her knockoff perfume. "Believe me, honey, everyone wants to get away from Florida in the summer. There will be tons of apartments available to rent in Key West."

So he goes back to the motel room and starts looking up apartments available for sublet on his laptop. As he's scrolling through photographs, he notices Hannibal glancing over his shoulder. "Do you want to give any input?" he asks, tilting the screen in his direction.

"It's your money, Will. You make the decision."

"You're going to be living there."

"We're going to be living there."

"All the more reason why we should both be looking."

Hannibal shifts a little bit closer as they browse through the listings. He seems particularly interested in Old Town properties, located in Downtown Key West. The area, dripping with affluence, has a historic charm that reminds him of Fell's Point, the neighborhood in Baltimore that Hannibal used to call home.

Not that Hannibal remembers his home.

At least, Will doesn't think he remembers.

Even though Will prefers to stay off the beaten path, he recognizes that it's almost easier to get lost in a crowd. Small town living breeds curiosity and gossip -- both of which they cannot afford right now. He emails a few owners that have move-in ready properties. "No matter where we end up staying, you know that you can't really go outside, right?" he asks Hannibal, shutting down his laptop. "You weren't supposed to leave the hospital. Someone might recognize you."

"I'm a wanted man?" Hannibal jokes, pushing the curtains aside to look, once again, at the swimming pool.

"Something like that."

"I understand. You don't have to worry about me, Will."

They move into a furnished one-bedroom cottage in Old Town the next day. Will chooses the property because there's a backyard that's surrounded in palm trees, blocking them from the neighbors' view. They'll be able to get some fresh air, as opposed to staying cooped up inside all day. When they pull into the driveway and drop their suitcases in the front foyer, Will feels an odd sense of accomplishment. Even though he created this plan on-the-fly, even though he invested less than thirty seconds deciding where their road trip would lead them, he feels as though they've reached a moment of culmination.

Completion.

"I'm going down to the grocery store. Want anything?"

Hannibal digs a notebook out of Will's suitcase and starts scribbling something down in ballpoint pen. Will waits for an answer but when one isn't forthcoming, he just says: "Fine. I'll be back in fifteen."

"Wait," Hannibal calls out, as he's heading out the door. "I'm making a grocery list for you."

"A grocery list? I meant do you want some Honey Smacks or something."

Hannibal rips the sheet out of the notebook and brings it over to Will:

- Three garlic cloves
- White wine vinegar
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- One and a half pounds multicolored cherry tomatoes
- Three ears of corn
- One and a half pounds of medium zucchini
- Nine ounces of dried egg pappardelle

Will stops reading after the pappardelle, even though the list continues on down the page. "What is this, Hannibal?"

"Pappardelle. Egg noodles combined with vegetables from the summer harvest. With a small garden salad on the side, paired with a white wine. I've recommended a Château d'Yquem but really, the choice of beverage should be yours. Also a homemade vanilla sorbet for dessert that we can take out onto the deck."

Will crumples up the grocery list and drops it on the tiled floor. Hannibal automatically picks it up, smooths out the creases, and holds it back out to Will. "I assure you, it won't take more than an hour to prepare."

"You're not making pappardelle."

"If you want something else, I'm sure that I can think of something."

"We're having ribs from the barbeque joint down the street. I'll get take-out."

"That's really unnecessary, Will --"

"I insist." He opens the door once again and heads out into the Key West sunshine. "I'll pick up some pinot grigio," he says, right before he slams the door behind him.

He comes home that evening with styrofoam containers full of barbecued ribs and a paper bag brimming with cornbread muffins and pasta salad and coleslaw. There's a bottle of cheap pinot grigio from the liquor shop tucked into a plastic bag, along with two pints of Ben and Jerry's. For the first time, he notices Hannibal's downcast expression when he sees the dinner spread -- but he simply says, "This looks splendid, Will," and starts assembling his plate.

They don't talk much over dinner. After they've finished, Hannibal washes the dishes and puts them back into the cherry wood cabinets. Then the two of them sit out on the deck, spoons stuck in their pints of ice cream.

"You don't want me to cook," Hannibal says, staring at the chickens that have been roaming around their backyard. A goldenrod one, comb tall and erect, pecks at the ground.

"No, I don't want you to cook."

"Why not?"

"I don't know." Will flicks a glob of Cherry Garcia towards the chicken, using his spoon as a makeshift catapult. The chicken pecks at it a few times before turning its attention back to the much-more-interesting dirt. "Why do you want to cook so badly?"

"I'm much more interested in why you're so opposed to the idea." Will starts to protest but Hannibal cuts him off: "It's because the thought of cooking feels familiar, even comforting, to me. I remember all of these recipes --"

"Like what?"

"Caramelized beef tenderloin with Gorgonzola profiteroles. Butter poached lobster with saffron tapioca and passion fruit. Fois gras brulé with dried pineapple and sichuan peppercorn. Yellowfin tuna ribbons with avocado and ginger marinade --"

"Stop."

Will can't listen to any more recipe titles. He's actually tasted Hannibal's caramelized beef tenderloin before. It was delicious.

It also wasn't made of beef.

"I thought that you might appreciate some home-cooked meals. It seems like the least that I could do to show my gratitude --"

"If you want to show your gratitude, just eat the fucking ice cream."

Despite Will's working-class backwoods upbringing, he watches his language. However, as he has just slogged his way through three of the most challenging days of his life, he figures that he can cut himself a break this once. He does notice how Hannibal sheepishly digs out a spoonful of his Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream.

Even the chicken clucks in admonition.

Perhaps burdened by a guilty conscience, Will insists on sleeping on the couch. He pulls some sheets out of the linen closet and, discovering that the residents actually have more of a loveseat than a couch, curls up into a fetal position. "Are you certain that you don't want the bed?" Hannibal asks, standing in the doorway, his thumb pressed against the light switch. Will pulls his knees up a little bit farther, trying to keep from tumbling onto the floor.

"I'm sure. It's all yours."

"If you insist. Goodnight, Will."

"Goodnight, Hannibal."

Hannibal flips off the switch and the world dims around him. Will stays awake for a long time, despite the fact that he's exhausted. The couple next door are arguing in Spanish, their vitriol clearly audible through the kitchen window: Vale, se acabó, ya no te aguanto más, me voy! He wishes that there was someone here that he could talk to -- a friend, a colleague, even a therapist . . . He stifles a rather desperate chuckle when he remembers that, at one time, Hannibal had been all three for him. Now, he has someone who looks like Hannibal, who occasionally even speaks like Hannibal, but who isn't. That man sleeping in the bedroom upstairs is not Hannibal Lecter, no matter how many recipes he can rattle off.

He's relatively certain that this Hannibal would use actual beef in the caramelized beef tenderloin.

He can't for the life of him understand why that thought makes him feel so hopeless. This Hannibal Lecter certainly is an improvement. He isn't going to frame Will Graham for multiple homicides; he isn't going to force-feed him anatomical cuisine using plastic tubes; he isn't going to use drugs to induce hallucinogenic seizures or auto-cannibalism; and, perhaps most importantly, he isn't going to murder anyone that Will cares about. So really, Will has no right to complain.

He keeps telling himself that as he stares up into the darkness, the ceiling fan whirring overhead, willing himself to go to sleep.

----------

The weeks pass slowly. Will finds a library a few blocks away and visits each afternoon. He shows the librarian the paperwork from his real estate agent; she starts letting him borrow books. There's not much that's readily available. The paperback racks are stuffed with dime-store romance novels for the retirees that live in the neighborhood -- Pleasure Me in Petra and To Wed a Wicked Highlander. So he learns how to use the inter-library loan system and starts requesting texts that are more targeted to their interests. He checks out all kinds of reading material for Hannibal: psychology periodicals and history textbooks and travel magazines. To his credit, his new roommate doesn't complain once. He sits out on the deck most days, his bare feet propped up on an ottoman, flipping through the pages of a book on loan. Sometimes, Will pours artificially sweetened iced tea into two tumblers and sits next to him.

It's during one of these lazy afternoons that Hannibal starts asking questions: "You mentioned that we had a falling out once. What was it about?"

Will clinks the ice cubes up against the side of his glass. ". . . Do we really need to have this conversation?"

"I think that it could be helpful. Probably for both of us."

"You lied to me."

"About what?"

"About who you are. About who you were, I guess."

Hannibal waits for a clarification.

Will pours the rest of his iced tea out onto the grass before standing up. "Do you want anything from the kitchen?"

"I would like to cook dinner for you tonight."

"Not happening."

"Will . . ."

But Will's already halfway across the deck, taking his now-empty tumbler back into the kitchen.

"I'm a psychiatrist who plays the harpsichord. What else can you tell me about myself?"

Will pauses, his palm pressed against the wire mesh of the screen door.

"You're originally from Lithuania. Your parents passed away when you were young; you lived in an orphanage for a few years before being taken in by your aunt and uncle."

"How did my parents die?"

"You never told me."

"I assume that I'm not married, and that I don't have any children."

"No, you don't have anyone."

"Except for you."

Will goes back into the house. Slams the screen door behind him. He tosses the tumbler into the sink, a chunk of glass cracking off of the rim, and braces himself against the countertop. He leans forward, the midday sun spilling in through the kitchen window and baking the flesh on the back of his neck.

He hears the sound of the screen door opening and then gently latching shut.

Feels a palm tentatively come to rest on his left hip.

"Don't touch me," he grits out through clenched teeth, the words almost lost underneath the steady rumble of traffic outside the window. "You don't get to touch me."

But Hannibal doesn't move away. Instead, he leans forward and inhales the baby-powder scent of Will's drugstore shampoo. It's disconcertingly familiar, and Will wants nothing more than to lash out at him, to physically push him away, but he tightens his grip on the edge of the countertop instead. Hannibal's words are too close, too quiet, too intimate: "You take care of everyone else, Will. Who's taking care of you?"

"You want to take care of me?"

"Why not?"

"You're brain damaged." It's a low-blow -- but it's true. He feels Hannibal stiffen slightly behind him, bristling against that description.

"I suppose."

"Suppose? They cut through the fibers in your brain. They hammered open your skull behind your eye sockets and jabbed away at the white matter so that you --"

"Stop."

Hannibal pulls away and, when when Will turns around, the edges of Hannibal's eyes are moist, reflecting the sunlight from outside. He tries to maintain his dignity, however; he remains poised and steady, a superficial barricade against the onslaught of his disability. Because that's what Hannibal has become. Disabled.

Having fallen somewhere on the spectrum his entire life, Will knows that there's nothing shameful about that label.

He still knows that it's something Hannibal will struggle with for a long time.

"It's all right," he says, trying to come up with some small conciliation. "You weren't exactly stable to begin with."

As soon as the words leave his mouth, he realizes that he's said too much. He inhales and clamps his jaw shut, as if he could swallow those words back down into his gullet. But it's too late. They're stretched across the kitchen, fibrous and threadlike, stretching from the chapped flesh of his lips to the shell-like structure of Hannibal's cochlea. Connecting them with strands of memory that Will would prefer to leave long-forgotten.

"I wasn't." It's a statement instead of a question. Will gets the feeling that Hannibal already knew.

"No, you weren't."

"You just described a lobotomy. Is that what happened to me?"

"Yes."

"I didn't know. I thought that I had simply suffered neurological trauma." Hannibal sits down on the couch, casually pushing aside the blankets that Will sleeps on every night. They fall into a jersey knit puddle on the floor. "I've been reading those medical journals that you brought home from the library. There are procedures for psycho-surgery now that are performed with gamma knives."

Will shrugs. He doesn't know much about medicine.

"You just described an icepick lobotomy."

"This wasn't exactly performed in a regular hospital," Will explains, as if he was actually defending Chilton's use of a surgical procedure that hasn't been in practice for half a century.

"It wasn't. Where was it performed then?"

Will walks over to the couch and sits down at the opposite end.

"In a psychiatric institution." He leaves out the penitentiary part.

"Who brought me in for the procedure?"

Will realizes at that moment that he's blocked himself into a corner. Hannibal has no one; Will said so himself. Either he can tell Hannibal the truth about what he was doing in that hospital or --

"I did."

"You did."

"Yes."

Hannibal shifts slightly, obviously troubled, and asks what anyone would:

"Why would you do that?"

And that's when the lies really start.

"You were suffering."

Will doesn't have to maintain eye contact; no one expects that from him. All the better because he's absolutely certain that Hannibal would see through this façade in an instant if he did.

"Why was I suffering?"

"You were clinically depressed. We tried putting you on medication, but it wasn't working."

"There must have been other alternatives."

Will's astounded by how easily the fictionalized anecdotes take root in his mind and blossom: "No, there were no 'other alternatives' by that point . . . I stopped by your apartment one night and found you having a seizure on the floor. You'd overdosed on painkillers. I called 911; they pumped your stomach. You tried it again the following week."

Hannibal brings his knees up to his chest and begins tugging at the hems of his pajama pants. He strikes a strangely juvenile appearance, especially when he manages to snap the thread and starts pulling out the stitches one-by-one. Will knows that he'll be re-sewing them tomorrow, using the kit that he nabbed from the hotel back in Greensboro -- his stitches uneven, meandering drunkenly across the fabric, in a color that doesn't match. Not that Hannibal will care.

"That's why I was in the hospital."

"Yes. You weren't responding to treatment. I couldn't . . ." He actually has to stop for a moment, force his mouth to contort into these unbelievably unnatural words. "I couldn't stand the thought of losing you."

"Will --"

God help him, Hannibal almost sounds touched.

"I talked to Chilton about alternative courses of treatment. He mentioned a transorbital lobotomy -- told me that the practice was unorthodox at best, criminal at worst. I agreed not to disclose your course of treatment to anyone and signed the paperwork giving him permission to perform the surgery. You were basically non-responsive at that point."

"I had given you power of attorney?"

"Yes."

"We must have been very close."

Will doesn't have to lie about this part. He looks up and makes eye contact: "We were."

"I do not know if I would have gone to such lengths for a friend."

Will knows what Hannibal's implying; given the information, he probably would have come to the same conclusion. He edges backwards, trying to put as much distance between the two of them as possible.

"We're just friends, Hannibal."

"So you've told me."

And then:

"A friend with a key to my apartment apparently. Who feels comfortable stopping by unannounced."

Will sighs and stands up, crossing to the kitchen, giving himself time to think. "Even if there was . . ." A concession. Meaningless. But enough to stop all of the questions. "Even if there was something there at one time, I can't now. There's just . . . You don't even remember me."

"I only want to learn more about myself. I'm not asking you for anything, and I certainly understand why such a relationship would not be advisable at the present."

At the present. Fucking hell.

"I don't know how to feel about you being responsible for my amnesia," Hannibal continues. "To be honest, I'm unable to feel much of anything. I suppose that's one of the effects of the lobotomy. Passivity. Lassitude. A certain dullness."

"You are anything but dull."

"Thank you, Will. I'm glad that I'm still sufficient companionship, even in my current condition." But Will doesn't miss the crease between Hannibal's eyebrows that subtly asks the question: Will I be sufficient companionship? In another conversation, Will might have tried to assuage his doubts; however, they've already veered down a path that's left him feeling . . . uncomfortable, to say the least.

"I'm going to go read," Will says, excusing himself from all of his floundering. "I'll be upstairs if you need me."

Hannibal just nods, looking more adrift than ever before.

----------

The month in Key West drifts by in a haze of avoidance and platitudes. On their last evening in the sublet cottage, Hannibal lays on the deck -- his bare feet flat against the weathered-wood slats, face tilted towards the millions of stars sprinkling the midsummer night sky. His eyes are closed behind the thick lenses of his glasses.Normally, Will would go back indoors, dodging any possible confrontation. But the way that the breeze rustles through the strands of his now mostly-gray hair; the way he reaches up to scratch at the scruff that bristles across his jawline; the way his knees fall slightly apart, drawing loose cargo pants (purchased by Will, of course) up his calves. He looks so at ease with the world.

Will can't help but stop and watch.

"Do you want to join me?"

He isn't expecting the question. Perhaps that's the reason why he says yes.

And so they lay there -- stargazing, side-by-side. The chickens clucking in the backyard, pecking at blades of grass, provide the accompaniment for the evening. Will's eyes eventually flutter closed as well.

"I don't blame you."

Will doesn't respond. So Hannibal continues:

"For what happened. You had to make a difficult decision regarding my welfare." He pauses for a moment: "Am I different now?"

" . . . Yes."

"Does that bother you?"

" . . . Yes."

"I apologize."

"You can't help it."

They lay there in silence. A little boy shouts something unintelligible in the street beyond their fence; the crack of a softball bat hitting a plastic ball; the soft padding sounds of sneaker soles against asphalt. And then, for some unknown reason, Will starts talking:

"I didn't think that it would bother me. You were . . . challenging before. At the best of times. And I thought that this might help. Might make everything easier for both of us. For everyone involved." He feels a hitching, a convulsing, in his throat and actively tries to make his words sound steady. "But you're not yourself now. And I never realized how directionless my life would be without you." He grips his fingertips against the grain of the wood. "A boat caught in a storm without a lighthouse to bring it home."

"Is that what I am for you, Will?" Hannibal asks. "Home?"

"No. Not home. You're . . ."

He searches for the word.

Can't find one.

He feels fingertips entwine through his, the press of a broad palm against his own.

"Please don't leave me," he says to someone who's already gone.

"I'm not going anywhere," the stranger beside him replies.

Chapter Text

Four. Corpus Callosum.

Will falls in love with Sugarloaf Key.

He spends most of his time sitting on the dock behind their house. He's started a business fixing boat motors and, after only a month, has already amassed a number of clients. Even though he's never been the sociable type, he finds that he fits in with the scenery in this rickety jerry-rigged town. Most of the residents are geriatrics who pay their mortgages with their social security checks. They have cataracts and dentures; they hobble around on walkers. Sometimes, they come down to Will's dock and join him for fishing. He's learned a lot from these seasoned anglers. They teach him when to use jigs instead of live bait in the canals; they install the rod holders on his boat in a pattern that won't tangle his lines; they even improve his lures, showing him how to position the bait around leaves and pebbles that blend in with the local fauna.

They're grumpy old bastards, which suits Will just fine.

And perhaps most importantly, since they're half-blind and half-deaf (and some of them are suffering from a speck of dementia), they don't notice that Will's living with a convicted felon.

They don't care for Hannibal much, but they also don't question his presence when he comes out onto the dock. Once, an octogenarian geezer from down the street asks: "He your friend?"

"Sure," Will replies nonchalantly.

"You two live together?"

"Yes."

"Either of you ever been married?"

"No."

The man spits out of the side of his mouth, the glob of saliva dropping in the water with a decisive plop.

"Well, shit," he says -- and then goes back to teaching Will how to create the right noises using his bobbers.

When one of them asks what they should call Hannibal, Will says "Doctor" with a tight-lipped smile. And so it's always "G'morning Doc" or "G'night Doc" or "Watch your boots, Doc." Hannibal doesn't find the nickname endearing -- but he's also willing to dismiss their senility. He thankfully never insists that they call him Hannibal.

There are women who come around too, of course. Sun-tanned, age-appropriate women in hemp sandals. They have sterling-silver earrings with turquoise insets, and freckles from too much exposure to the Florida sunshine. They talk about how their father, their brother, their ex-husband, their ex-boyfriend took them fishing all the time. Even though they can't tell the difference between jigs.

He tends to get rid of these women quickly. They're too curious about who he is and where he comes from. They want to be invited over for lunch and "get to know him better." For all of his quirks and tics, Will Graham is an attractive man. And many women perceive him as a wounded bird that needs their nurturing and protection. He attracts a lot of single mothers.

For some reason, he doesn't mind Hannibal taking care of him. Perhaps Will's just grown used to it after all these years. Or perhaps it's because Hannibal's compulsive fussing doesn't seem condescending. When Hannibal asks "have you eaten today?," it's with the understanding that Will's a grown man who can make his own decisions. And it's with the knowledge that sometimes Hannibal struggles to remember their address.

Neither of them can take of themselves. So they have to take care of each other.

But Will still won't let Hannibal anywhere near the kitchen.

They both have their own bedrooms now. Will sleeps in the first floor guest bedroom; Hannibal sleeps in the master upstairs. Hannibal doesn't bring up their former friendship at all nowadays, and never implies that there may have been more than just friendship between them.

Good, Will thinks.

A trip to the park complicates the situation. Will sometimes spends his afternoons at Higgs Beach Dog Park -- a white-sand beach, bordered by wire fencing. He'll bring a folding lawn chair, cushioned with vinyl webbing, and watch the dogs for hours. He's been thinking about how to broach the subject with Hannibal: adopting a stray. He figures that, since he buys all of Hannibal's clothes at Walmart, he probably wouldn't mind getting a little dog hair on them. However, he also doesn't want this to feel like "the next step" for the two of them. They're just acquaintances who share a house, after all.

He's mentally reviewing his schedule, trying to decide when he could take Hannibal to the ASPCA, when a rotund little corgi waddles over to him and plops down at his feet. He looks up at Will, tongue out and panting in the midday heat, before he flops his head down on Will's hiking boots.

"Skip!"

A woman with mocha-colored skin and black hair, braided into a coiled bun, jogs over to the fence where Will's sitting. "Sorry about that," she says, kneeling down to ruffle the corgi's fur.

"No problem. I love dogs."

"I'd hope so," she laughs. "You're in a dog park."

"Really? I must have gotten turned around."

It's a bad joke.

She laughs anyway.

"So who's this?" he asks, getting down in the dirt beside her.

"Skip. We just adopted him last week. He's a bit of a chunky monkey, so we figured some exercise couldn't hurt."

"How's that been working out for him?"

"He's been using the time for sunbathing mostly. But sometimes he'll do a lap around the yard with the other dogs." As if on cue, Skip rolls over onto his back; Will reaches down and scratches his belly. "He likes you," she says. When she looks at Will, he stares just over her right shoulder.

"I had a lot of dogs."

"What happened to them?"

"I moved down here. Had to leave them behind."

"Why not bring them with you?"

"Taking care of a sick friend," he shrugs. "It would have been too difficult to worry about him and the dogs. I miss them though. They were the only family that I had."

"Ever think about getting another? When your friend gets better?"

"I was just considering how to drag him down to the ASPCA." He pauses for a moment, his fingertips still buried in the corgi's fur. "I should probably go alone actually. He's not supposed to leave the house."

"You could bring your cell phone," she suggests. "He could Skype with the dogs."

The idea of Hannibal Lecter video-chatting with a litter of golden retriever puppies makes him chuckle. "That's one way of doing it."

"I could go with you," she suggests. "I mean, I was just there so . . . I could show you around? Make sure that your friend gets the full dog-selection experience?"

He makes eye contact with her -- only for a moment, but it's more than most strangers get. "I'd . . . like that," he concedes.

She takes a napkin out of her pocket and jots down her phone number. "Call me and let me know when you're free. I just need twenty-four hour notice so that I can set up a babysitter." She quickly clarifies: "Single mom."

Will doesn't care much for other people's children. But for some reason, he says "okay" and tucks her phone number into his jeans pocket.

Her name is Molly.

----------

"How would you feel about getting a dog?" he asks Hannibal that evening. They're sitting at the kitchen table with half-empty containers of Chinese food in front of them.

"If you want a dog, I'm more than amenable to the idea."

"I had a lot of dogs back home," he explains, picking at his shrimp fried rice. "They liked you."

"When are you going to choose one?"

"I was thinking later this week. I met a woman at the dog park who offered to go with me."

Hannibal stills for a split-second before he goes back to eating. It's enough for Will to know that he's concerned.

"She wants to show you the dogs on your cell phone, give you a chance to get to know them." And then, a little quieter: "Since you can't leave the house or anything."

Hannibal hasn't complained once about being cooped up inside. Perhaps that's because he spent months locked inside an observation room in the basement of the BSHCI. Maybe just being able to go out on the dock is enough for him.

For now.

"That would be . . ." Hannibal spears a shrimp with his plastic fork. "I would very much like to meet the dogs, Will. Even if it's only by phone."

"Great," Will says, as if that settles the matter.

Hannibal looks as if he's had the rug pulled out from under him.

Will calls Molly the next morning, and they make plans to visit the ASPCA on Thursday. When the day comes, he meets her at the dog park and they drive down to Stock Island together. They stop at a local watering hole beforehand -- both of them ordering cheap beer on tap, served in dirty glasses on cardboard coasters. They sit at a driftwood picnic table; two industrial drum fans are parked on the floor nearby, blowing Molly's coily curls every which way.

"This place is usually better. But the guy who owns the restaurant's out on vacation."

"Maybe next time."

"Yeah, maybe next time," she grins. "Tell me about your friend."

"Well . . ." Will takes a sip of lukewarm beer that tastes mildly like dish soap. "We met at the office. He used to consult for the Baltimore Police."

"You were a police officer?"

"Narcotics. He worked with offenders who were judged to be mentally unstable."

"Sounds like a tough job."

"He's a rock." Will swirls his beer around in the glass before adding: "He was my rock. I was struggling at work, and he reached out to me. Helped me through some difficult times, so I figure that I owe him."

"What happened to him?"

"Car accident. Slipped on a patch of ice and drove straight into a ditch. He actually went through the windshield. Ended up with neurological damage."

"That's awful." He can tell that she means it.

"He doesn't remember anything from before the accident."

"Not even you?"

"Not even me."

"I can't imagine . . . God, if something like that happened to someone that I cared about, I can't imagine what I'd do afterwards."

"There's not much you can do. You just . . . pick up the pieces."

Molly rests her hand on top of Will's. It's much smaller than Hannibal's; her bones seem almost fragile, bird-like, in comparison. Her fingernails are painted a seafoam green color but the polish has chipped around the edges. She has a bandage wrapped around her index finger.

He rests his hand on top of hers.

"Tell me about your son."

"He's eleven," she begins. The bar doesn't have any walls -- more of a thatched hut than an actual building -- so she looks outside at the parking lot while she talks. Will can't understand why. "He loves baseball, like his dad."

"What happened?"

"He died. Cancer. We moved down here because I couldn't stand living in that house anymore. Sleeping in that bed." She shivers, and he fights down the urge to switch benches and hold her. "It smelled like medicine. And death."

He's about to ask her what death smells like -- but really, he doesn't have to. He already knows.

"How's he dealing?"

"Fine, all things considered. He plays on a Little League team -- Key West Little Conch. His grades have slipped a bit, but that's to be expected. We try to keep up with his homework. We have a lot of dogs."

"How many?"

"Seven. I'm a sucker for strays."

"Me too."

"Yeah, I get that about you."

Molly looks back at him then -- and the smile that she gives him makes the lukewarm dish-water beer worth it.

They arrive at the ASPCA in the mid-afternoon. It's a mint-colored ranch home with rosebushes growing out front. Walking up the pathway to the front door, he can already hear the yaps and barks coming from inside. "You know what you're looking for?" Molly asks, pushing the screen door open.

"Something that Doc will like."

"Doc? You call your friend Doc?"

"Everyone does."

He's trained himself to refer to Hannibal as "Doc" with others. It was awkward for the first few months, reminded him of a sing-along from a Disney cartoon, but eventually he adapted.

They wander from kennel to kennel, looking at the different dogs available for adoption. "I usually just pick up my strays off the road," Will admits, bending down to get a better look at a chihuahua. "This whole adoption process is new for me."

"Do you want to call your friend?"

Not really, Will thinks, enjoying the time that he's spending alone with Molly. But instead he takes out his cell phone and dials Hannibal's number.

"Hey, you free?" he asks when Hannibal picks up. It's an absurd question. Of course Hannibal's free. What would he be doing?

"Yes."

"Do you want to look at some dogs?"

"Certainly."

Will switches Hannibal over to video call then. He sometimes forgets the realness of Hannibal when he talks about him with his neighbors. He forgets the way that the wrinkles in the corners of Hannibal's eyes crinkle, and that's how you can be certain that he's smiling.

Right now, Hannibal's watching Will film himself alongside the dogs, and he's smiling.

"Okay, so this is Molly." He holds up the phone so that Hannibal can see her. She waves, lighting up like a sparkler when she sees him.

"I'm so excited to meet you," she says. "Will told me all about you on the ride over."

"Really?"

"You're all he talks about."

Molly certainly knows how to score points.

"Okay," Will says, turning the phone back around. "We're going to look at some dogs. This is Sinatra . . ."

----------

He comes home that evening with a dappled pit bull mutt named Daz. As soon as Molly pulls into the driveway, Daz leaps out of the backseat to mark his territory. "Good choice," she says, watching Daz sniff around the trunks of the palm trees that grow in their front yard. "He's a winner."

"Doc picked him," Will reminds her sheepishly.

"Doc has good taste."

He thinks that she means it in more ways than one.

"It was really nice spending time with you, Will," she says, leaning up against the hood of her car.

"Want to do it again sometime?"

"You free Saturday?"

"Sure."

He comes closer, putting his palms on either side of her. The metal's scalding hot, but there's no way he's backing down. Pressing himself against her, he feels the soft swell of her breasts underneath her T-shirt.

She's the one that kisses him.

He wants to take her inside badly. Wants to push her down onto his twin-sized bed and suck her little dark brown nipples into his mouth. Wants to push himself inside of her and feel the creases of her folds. Wants to stay inside of her until he's too soft and too sleepy, and, even then, he'll hold her tight against him until the chirps of the terns wake them the following morning.

But he doesn't, of course.

Instead he whispers against her beestung lips that he'll see her on Saturday. Then he goes back inside with Daz at his heels.

"Did you enjoy yourself?" Hannibal asks, and even though he couldn't have possibly known what was happening outside just a few seconds ago, Will still feels needlessly guilty.

"Yeah," Will says, patting the flat surface of Daz's head. "Hannibal, this is Daz."

"We met over the phone."

Hannibal snaps his fingers, and Daz immediately trots over to him, rubbing his nose against the fibers of Hannibal's jeans. Scratching the space behind his upturned ears, Hannibal looks up at Will: "Should I get attached?"

"He's yours too."

"You know what I mean, Will."

"I like her." He glances at the window where he's hung one of the sun-catchers that they painted together back in the observation room. "I like her a lot."

"Then that's all that matters."

"It was just one date, Hannibal," he clarifies. "She'll probably find out how damaged I am and go running in the other direction."

"Perhaps."

"Even if we did end up getting together . . ." And Will knows that he shouldn't, but he can't help wishing: "You'd still be a part of our lives. You could keep the house, of course."

"That would be unnecessary."

"No, really. The house belongs to you."

Daz awkwardly lurches up onto the couch, circling around a few times before resting his head on Hannibal's lap. Hannibal doesn't say anything about the slobbering and the shedding; he doesn't so much as flinch.

"I suppose this would be as good a time as any to talk about my employment prospects."

"What do you mean?"

"If you're going to embark on a relationship with this woman, you're not going to have the financial means to help support both of us."

"I . . ." Will starts to say something -- and then promptly shuts up. Because he's never even thought about that problem. "Molly owns a shop up near the lodge. Maybe you could work there?"

"What kind of shop?"

"A dress shop." And then when Hannibal looks like he might argue: "You'd be in the backroom. Tagging garments. Stocking shelves. Calling in orders."

"What makes you think that she would even have an opening?"

"She mentioned that she wants to grow her business. Guess they're popular with the tourists." He pauses for a second, shoves his fists down inside his pockets. "Just make sure that you stay in the backroom, Hannibal."

"That's if she would even be amenable to such an idea."

"I'll ask on Saturday."

"Saturday?"

"Yeah, we're going to grab some dinner."

Hannibal stands up, eliciting a high-pitched keen from Daz.

"It wasn't just one date then."

"No, I guess it wasn't."

Hannibal starts up the stairs to his bedroom. "If you want to bring her by the house sometime, I would be willing to talk to her about the position at her shop."

Daz lumbers up the stairs behind him, without even a backwards glance at Will.

Traitor.

----------

They're sitting in white plastic chairs underneath umbrellas littered with beer insignias. A caddy in the center of the table contains squeeze bottles of ketchup and mustard, along with a dogeared, condiment-stained dinner menu. "I know it doesn't look like much," Molly says, gesturing to the dilapidated ranch-turned-restaurant. "But the local seafood's fantastic."

"You need to stop apologizing for the roadside dives," Will responds. "I grew up in Louisiana. I'm used to restaurants that have cockroaches crawling across the floor but incredible chicken gumbo."

"You only think it's chicken gumbo. Really, they have to find something to do with all of those cockroaches."

Will laughs -- but the joke hits a little too close to home.

"I wanted to talk to you about something," he begins, picking at their fried calamari.

"Shoot."

"I'm worried about Doc. He can't really go out in public anymore, because of the brain damage. But I don't like having to keep him cooped up in the house."

"Why can't he go out?"

"He has panic attacks. He doesn't like being around strangers. The doctors tell me that I should 'reduce the circumstances that provoke anxiety to the minimum.'" Will spends most of his free time on his laptop, researching cover stories to keep them out of trouble. It's gotten to the point where he can quote their imaginary doctors. It's gotten to the point where sometimes he forgets that this isn't real -- that he isn't a retired police officer taking care of his injured friend.

It seems like a lifetime ago that he was an FBI profiler working alongside a cannibalistic serial killer.

This is much simpler.

"So you're looking for safe ways that he can leave the house," Molly assumes, dipping her calamari in marinara sauce.

"I know that you mentioned wanting to grow your business. I was thinking that he might be able to work in the backroom. That way, he'd be able to spend time outside the house, but he wouldn't have to interact with customers. And he'd be able to make a living. That means a lot to him."

"It must be hard. Being a psychiatrist with brain damage."

"I'd imagine so."

"I'd love to have Doc come and work in the shop," she begins. "But I do have to ask . . . ."

"Ask away."

"You know I have an eleven-year-old, and he spends a lot of time hanging around the shop. Doc sounds like a really great guy; I feel badly that he's so down-and-out at the moment. But I just have to make sure, with the brain damage and everything . . . Is he safe to have around my son?" Before Will even says anything, she lifts her palms up in a placating gesture: "I'm sorry if that sounds ignorant. I just don't know what to expect from someone who's been in that kind of an accident."

Will catches her hands in his. Brings them to his lips and kisses the paper-smooth backs.

"It's not ignorant. It means you're an incredible mother." Somehow, even though he's never seen Molly interact with her son, he knows that's the truth. "What's his name anyway? Your son."

"You really want to know?" she grins.

"What?"

" . . . William."

"You're kidding."

"We call him Willy for short."

"That's . . . coincidental."

"I know. Meant to be." Immediately after she says the words, Molly looks like she regrets them. Her smile fades, and she begins sputtering out apologies and clarifications that Will doesn't need.

"No, I think you're right," he assures her, wondering what he's getting himself into. "Molly?"

"Yes?"

"Can I meet your son?"

And her smile's back like the steady buzz of the neon signs hanging above a bar. "I would love for you to meet my son. Will?"

"Yes?"

"Can I meet Doc? I mean, really meet him. Not just over the phone."

"Yes. He's completely safe; he can just be a little unusual at times."

"Great. Who knows? Maybe he can even babysit sometime."

"Maybe."

As if Will Graham would ever leave anyone's child alone with Hannibal Lecter.

The following afternoon, Will Graham takes Molly and Willy to see a baseball game. It's just the local high school playing against Merritt Island -- but, since Willy's enrolled in the Key West public school system, he's already starting to imagine himself playing on that baseball diamond one day. He leans over to Will, his fingers coated in orange-red dust from a bag of Cheetos, and tells him how he can pitch better than #23 or hit better than #4. He tells him how he's going to be the MVP at Key West High, how he's going to go on to play pro just like his dad.

Will was expecting a middle schooler who would mark his territory, who would try to frighten off the interloper with bad behavior and outright hostility. But Willy seems to be in desperate need of a male role model. Will's not sure that he should be anyone's role model . . . but when Willy grabs onto his hand in the parking lot, as they're walking back to their car, he starts thinking that he might not be the worst thing that's ever happened to this kid.

On Wednesday, Molly comes over for dinner.

Will does the cooking. Hannibal sits on one of the kitchen stools, his glasses propped down low on his nose, perusing a psychiatric journal. "I wrote an article," he says, squinting over the font to make sure that he's read the words correctly.

"What?"

"Right here." He points to the line of text. "In his 2007 article 'Evolutionary Origin of Social Exclusion,' Dr. Hannibal Lecter states that --"

Will snatches the journal away from him, skimming the referenced paragraph. When he's satisfied that the article has nothing to do with cannibalism or homicide, he slides the text back across the counter.

"I know."

"Have you read it?"

"Yes."

"And . . .?"

"You were brilliant."

"Can I read it?"

"Maybe it would be best to stay away from the psychiatric journals." Will hasn't been careful enough. He didn't think that the psychiatric journals -- no, he didn't think period. Of course the psychiatric journals would reference articles written by Hannibal Lecter. Of course some of the psychiatric journals probably publish articles about Hannibal Lecter -- about his crimes, about his fixations, about his psychosis. Really, apart from keeping Hannibal locked up for the rest of his life, how can he possibly hope to keep him sheltered from that knowledge?

Maybe he should have left him in the observation room.

"I just don't think there's anything to be gained by dwelling on your past," he clarifies, pouring the pasta into a strainer. "You have a new life now."

"Not much of a life, Will."

It's the first real stirrings of discontent and, even though he should know better, Will doesn't expect them.

"You're not happy here?"

"I don't know where I stand right now."

"In the kitchen."

"Don't try to be funny, Will."

"I know that this must be difficult for you. But I'm trying to start a new life here too. I left a lot behind to come here -- my home, my dogs, my girlfriend."

"You mean that 'someone else' you were trying to move on with."

"Yes."

Hannibal closes the psychiatric journal and removes his glasses. "I'm trying to understand why you left all of that behind."

"Because you didn't deserve to be locked up in that hospital for the rest of your life," Will says matter-of-factly, chopping parsley on the cutting board.

"You're doing that incorrectly."

"What?"

"The parsley. You're keeping the chop coarse. Here." He reaches for one of the knives stuck in the wooden holder on the countertop. Pulling out the chef's knife, he examines the parsley and prepares to make the first cut.

Will isn't prepared for the flashback. The sensation of the knife blade sliding into the flesh of his cheek, colliding with the cartilage of his nose. Dolarhyde tugging up on the blade, splitting the flesh open and watching the carnage spill forth. He hadn't been able to open his mouth without being gagged by his own blood, spurting from the wound site. And he can taste it now in the back of his throat and feel the igniting pain deep down in the tissue below his scarring. Without thinking, he takes the paring knife in his hand and slashes to his left.

He snaps out of it when he hears the chef's knife clatter to the linoleum floor.

Hannibal isn't hurt badly. But he does have a shallow gash along his bicep. He watches the expanding rust-colored blotch on Hannibal's button-down shirt for a moment before opening the kitchen cabinet and taking out the First Aid kit. "I'm sorry," he mumbles, removing some antiseptic and a bandage.

"What's wrong with you?" Hannibal asks. The question isn't accusatory, only curious.

"As you may have noticed, someone stabbed me. Could you take off your shirt?"

Running lukewarm water over a washcloth, Will begins to gently clean the blood off of Hannibal's flesh.

"Your cheek. How did that happen?"

"I told you that when I started therapy, I was . . . struggling at work."

"One of the criminals you were chasing stabbed you?"

"Something like that."

"I'm so sorry, Will."

"It's all right," he mutters, dabbing antiseptic ointment on the wound. "Just stay out of the kitchen, okay?"

He shifts closer as he wraps the bandage around Hannibal's bicep; the blood immediately speckles through the porous fibers. "I think you'll live," he says, tucking the end of the bandage securely underneath the wrappings.

"Will."

Will looks up. Makes eye contact. The pupils of Hannibal's eyes are dark and lead him down that hallway, down that highway, to somewhere far off in the distance.

The doorbell rings.

"That'll be Molly," Will whispers, even though there's no one else in the room.

Neither of them moves.

The doorbell rings again.

"I should get the door."

"Yes."

They're so close that he can feel the warm condensation of Hannibal's breath on his cheek.

It's only on the third ring that Will finally manages to get up and leave the kitchen. Molly's wearing an eyelet sundress and has brought a mid-priced bottle of blanc de noir. "I hope that I got this right," she says, lifting up the bottle. "I know you said that Doc appreciates the finer things and, well, I don't really know wine."

"Me neither," Will shrugs. "He's pretty easy-going, all things considered."

And then from behind them: "You must be Molly."

Molly grins, showing off the gap in between her two front teeth.

"You must be Doc."

"So they tell me." Hannibal, in a fresh button-down shirt from the laundry, steps forward and cordially shakes her hand.

"I've heard a lot about you."

"Likewise."

"I brought wine," she says, awkwardly offering him the bottle. "I tried to pick something that you'd like. I probably messed it up and all but . . ."

Hannibal accepts the bottle and examines the label. He glances over at Will for a split second before saying:

"It's perfect, Molly. Thank you."

Chapter Text

Five. Amygdala.

Will falls in love with Molly Foster.

They all sit out on the dock and watch the aluminum fishing boats floating down the canal. Hannibal ignores the way that the two of them hold hands, their bare feet dangling down into the water below. "Doc, look!" Willy shouts, tugging at the hem of Hannibal's shirt. In the distance, fireworks pop and crackle against the night sky, the red flares sizzling downwards until they burn out.

"Come along, William," Hannibal says, standing up and extending his hand. Willy grabs a-hold and jumps up. He sprints down the length of the dock, the rubber soles of his sneakers padding thump-thump-thump against the wooden slats. "We'll refresh the drinks," Hannibal says to the two lovebirds, turning back towards the house.

Will knows that he shouldn't leave his future stepson alone with a reformed serial killer -- but Molly leans her head on his shoulder. And he's inhaling the thick scent of shea butter. And his fingers are tugging down the spaghetti straps of her sundress. And the fireworks are blazing, multicolored sparks exploding overhead. And, in the moment, it's easy to let Willy disappear indoors with Hannibal close behind.

"Now that we're alone . . ." Will murmurs against her throat, licking a strip of flesh right above her collarbone. She grabs his hand and guides it underneath her skirt. He pushes her cotton panties aside with his fingers and rubs his thumb against her clit.

"Christ, Will," she sighs, bucking up into his hand. She tilts her head slightly. "Doc going to keep him busy in there?"

"They'll give us a moment."

"Hmmm," she hums, as he pushes his fingers deep inside of her. "I'd rather we were the ones inside the house."

"You think the neighbors will notice?" he asks, unbuckling his belt.

"Will! Not here!" she squeals in mock-indignation, swatting his hand away before he can unzip his jeans. "You can't seriously be thinking . . ."

"Come here," he says, tugging her onto his lap. And this time her fingers, callused and waif-thin, are pulling down the zipper and wrapping around his erection. She's the one pulling him out past the threadbare fabric of his boxer-briefs. She's the one yanking off her panties and tossing them into the water below.

"Gone fishing," she smiles when he peers over the edge of the dock at her panties floating in the brackish water below. He's about to make some smart remark -- when she lowers herself onto him. And then it's all Molly Molly Molly from that moment onwards. Molly Foster.

Molly Foster.

Molly Foster.

Molly Graham.

"Marry me," he sputters out, before he loses his nerve. She keens, high in her throat, grinding down onto him.

"Christ. Yes, Will."

Somewhere, far away, the sound of a blender turning on. The blunt metallic whirring. The grinding of food being mashed into pulp. But he's distracted by the way she clenches around him, as if she's desperate to keep him at the very core of her. And he's so in awe of the fact that this woman -- this woman -- has agreed to be his wife that he ignores what should be sending up warning flares over a thirty-five mile radius.

He comes inside of her. Uses the pad of his thumb to wipe up the ejaculate that dribbles out of her onto her thigh.

"We should have used protection," she mutters, not shifting from her spot on his lap. His flaccid cock stays lodged in the crook of her pelvis.

"We're getting married. Why bother?"

"You want kids, Mr. Miller?"

The name printed on his fake ID.

She'll never be Molly Graham; she'll only be Molly Miller. But maybe that's for the best, he thinks, cupping her cheek with the palm of his hand.

"I figure we're good with strays. We'd probably be good with kids too, right?"

"That seems about right," she smiles, looking towards the kitchen window. "Wonder what's taking them so long."

"I told you. They're giving us a moment."

"Willy?" she calls, tumbling over onto the dock next to Will with all the poise of a beached manatee. "I shouldn't have tossed my panties away," she whispers. "I'm all messy."

"I like you messy."

"Stop," she chuckles. "You'll just get us started again."

The bang of the screen door. Willy jogs down the deck with two glass tumblers clutched in both of his fists. "What've you got there, baby?" Molly asks, as Willy plops down next to them.

"Milkshakes."

"Where'd you get milkshakes?"

"Doc made 'em." He holds one out to his mother who wraps her lips around the red-striped bendy straw.

"My god!" she exclaims when she finally comes up for air. "Doc, I didn't know you were good in the kitchen."

Will turns and sees Hannibal walking down the dock, holding two more glass tumblers. These obviously aren't the milkshakes that they buy from the McDonald's down the street -- made from powdered mix and flavoring syrup. These have whipped scoops of french vanilla ice cream, swizzles of caramel and chocolate smudged against the inside of the glass. There's a strawberry perched on the edge, melted chocolate corkscrewing around the fruit.

"French vanilla milkshake with Belgian chocolate and homemade caramel sauce."

"This is delicious," she says, taking another slurp out of her straw. "You know, we could use something like this down at the shop. Women could come in and try on dresses. Then, when they're beginning to feel tired out, they could enjoy dessert at the counter. Do you make anything else?"

"Just tell me what you're looking for."

"Mmmm. Can you do pastries?"

"Of course."

"I think this just might work out, Doc," she smiles. "This could be the beginning of a very lucrative business arrangement."

"I hope so, Molly."

He holds out one of the tumblers to Will.

Will grabs the milkshake and tosses its contents into the river below.

"Will!" Molly's the one chastising him for his impoliteness.

"I asked you to stay away from the kitchen."

"Why should he?" Molly argues. "He's obviously talented. We should be encouraging that." She lowers her voice to a whisper, words meant only for Will: "Especially for someone who's mentally disabled."

But Will isn't listening to her right now: "I ask you for one thing, Ha . . . Doc."

"You ask for a lot without knowing it, Will."

"Bullshit."

Molly puts her tumbler down on the dock and pries her son's out of his grasp. "I think that we should probably be going." She stands up and dusts off her sundress. "Take it easy on him, Doc," she says, resting her palm on Hannibal's forearm. "He's had a trying night."

"Really."

"He asked me to marry him; that takes a lot out of a man. He'll come around."

Hannibal rests his hand over Molly's. For a split second, Will's concerned that he's going to snap her wrist -- but he just pats her hand once, twice. "Goodnight, Will," she says quietly, before retreating back up the driveway.

"Now what were you saying about asking a lot of you?"

But Hannibal's staring at the driveway. At the beams of Molly's headlights as she revs up the engine and pulls out into the street.

"Hannibal?"

"You asked her to marry you."

"Don't change the topic."

"I'm not."

"Are you jealous?"

"Yes."

It's not the answer that he's expecting. Usually men try to bolster themselves up -- claiming that they don't feel wounded or jealous or intimidated or frightened. But Hannibal just stands there on the dock, the fireworks dying down into a fizzle overhead, saying (if not with words, then with expressions) that he's feeling all of those things at this moment.

"I told you that we were never going to happen."

"I know."

"So you can't get jealous now that I've found someone else. I told you upfront that I didn't have those kinds of feelings for you."

"I know."

"I'm just not attracted to men, Hannibal. You don't do anything for me."

Hannibal stands there. Saying nothing.

"Look, why don't you go inside and get Daz some food? I'll clean up out here."

Will begins picking up the tumblers and pouring the milkshakes out into the river. The dessert disappears underneath the brine, following Molly's intimates down to the silty riverbed. He waits for Hannibal to go back into the house -- but he remains still, staring off into the distance.

"Well?"

"I remembered you."

Will drops the tumbler that he's holding. The glass shatters on the dock, jagged fragments spraying out around their bare feet.

"Shit," he says, realizing that he can't move without getting glass lodged in the meat of his heel.

Hannibal bends down and begins to clean up the mess. As he shifts around the dock, Will sees the spackles of blood that he's leaving behind; he'll have to use the tweezers above the bathroom sink to pick miniscule shards of glass out of his soles later tonight. "What do you mean -- you remembered me?"

"Back in the observation room. I remembered you."

"No, you didn't."

"I didn't remember your name or where I knew you from. Nothing like that. But I remembered the feelings that I used to have for you. I remembered being very fond of you; I remembered caring deeply about what happened to you."

"Bullshit. You ignored me the first time I came in the room."

"I didn't remember that first time. It was later. That's why I started writing letters to you when you stopped coming."

Hannibal grimaces as another shard embeds itself in the meat between his toes.

"No, you didn't. You were . . . projecting, transferring, something."

"I remembered you."

Seeing a pathway that's been cleared, Will says: "Maybe I should start thinking about moving out." And he walks back up to the house, opening the screen door, and leaving Hannibal standing, bleeding, out on the dock -- splinters of shattered glass clutched in the palm of his hand.

----------

Will moves in with Molly the following week. He leaves Hannibal with specific instructions: don't leave the house, don't spend too much time on the dock, don't form relationships with the neighbors or anyone else. Hannibal doesn't argue; he just goes back to whipping up frosting in a ceramic mixing-bowl. The moment Will declared his intention to leave, Hannibal stopped following his decree to stay out of the kitchen. There's a plate of multicolored French macaroons on the kitchen table -- fluffy meringue filled with ganache. Even though they look delicious, Will refuses to try one.

"I know that you're angry with me," Will says, his suitcases all packed and waiting by the front door. "But please don't go wandering around. If they figure out where you came from, what's happened to you, they'll take you back to the hospital."

"That doesn't make sense. Why should they care about me? I'm a depressed patient who was subjected to an antiquated surgical technique. There's no reason why I shouldn't be able to go about my life. In fact . . ." Hannibal removes a tray of petit fours from the refrigerator, prepares to pipe frosting across the fondant. "We could probably sue for damages. Not that I don't enjoy baking for the shop, of course, but it would be a relief to have sufficient financial support."

Will rubs his index fingers against his temples, trying to stave off the impending migraine. "Look, can you trust me on this one, Hannibal? Just please keep to yourself for now."

"As you say, Will."

Will edges a little bit closer and rests his hand on Hannibal's forearm. He can feel Hannibal's muscles clench. "I care about you, Hannibal . . . I've always cared about you. And I don't want anything to happen to you now -- not when we're finally free and clear."

"This doesn't feel much like freedom."

"Not now. But it will. I promise."

Hannibal relaxes slightly and Will removes his hand. He goes to the front door, picks up his suitcases: "I'll stop by later tonight."

And with a rattle and a click of the screen door, he's gone.

Despite his status as the jilted partner, Hannibal gets along well with Molly. "These are delicious, Doc," Molly declares, her mouth stuffed with custard-filled canelé. "You have a gift. Really, you do."

"The kitchen is the only place I feel at home," Hannibal explains, arranging the macaroons around a spray of fresh flowers from the garden outside. "I have a feeling that I've always thrived there."

"I need to stop eating these or there aren't going to be enough left over for the customers."

"I can always bake more."

"I don't need more. I'm going to be packing on the pounds soon anyway."

"Oh?"

"We're trying. It took a few months the last time, with Willy, but . . . well, we're trying." She pops a final canelé into her mouth. "We're getting married at the courthouse next week. We're hoping that you'll be our witness."

"Of course."

"This is going to be a good life, Doc," she says, wrapping her arms around his neck. "The four of us -- five of us, if we're counting Daz, and we really do have to count Daz, don't we? -- we're going to be a family." She hugs him close, feeling the strength, the solidity, in his shoulders.

On the day that the Grahams (or the Millers, according to their license) get married at the courthouse, Hannibal bakes a tray of cupcakes with vanilla buttercream icing. They're simple, like something that Will's grandmother might have cooked on an aluminum baking pan in her oven. And even though Will chooses not to have one, he appreciates the sentiment.

Willy's fingers are covered in sugar and spittle. Hannibal patiently cleans them with a tissue from his pocket.

This is going to work, Will thinks.

It's almost a surprise when it doesn't.

The end comes suddenly, just a few months after their marriage. They're enjoying an afternoon out on the dock, reclining on the sun-baked wooden planks. Will's rubbing the callused soles of his wife's bare feet, working his thumb against an especially rough patch. Every imperfection that he stumbles on -- calluses and freckles and wrinkles and gray hairs -- makes him love her all the more.

"The newspaper wants to do a write-up on the shop," Molly drawls, her speech lazy in the summer heat. "They've heard that our baked goods are second-to-none. I was thinking that you could do the interview with me, Doc."

"I don't always leave the best impression."

"Aw, c'mon now, Doc. You're a charmer."

"Not like you are, Molly."

"You'd really rather I did it alone?"

"If you don't mind."

"No, that's fine." She wriggles her toes, tickling the underside of Will's wrist. "I just want to make sure that you're getting the credit that you deserve. Because really, your baking has put the shop on the map. We've never seen so much business."

"I appreciate the sentiment."

"I mean it." And then, half-jokingly: "I need you, Doc. So don't even think about starting up your own pastry shop on the side."

"I don't think you have anything to worry about," Will says. "Doc's not exactly an entrepreneur." He favors Hannibal with a lop-sided grin, similar to the ones he used to give him when they first met. Hannibal won't remember, of course -- but the way they are now, Will himself could almost forget what came before.

Molly's phone rings -- the synthesized beeps interrupting the midday calm -- and she picks up: "Hey, baby . . . What's that? . . . Sure, we can be there . . . When? . . . We're on our way." She hangs up: "Willy needs us to pick him up from Little League. They finished early." Clumsily, she pushes herself to her feet. "I'm just going to use the restroom. You don't mind, do you, Doc?"

"Not at all."

"Thanks." She goes inside, leaving the two men alone on the dock.

"I feel like we haven't been alone in a while," Will says, reaching down to flick at the river water. The dankly verdant scent of seaweed clings to the air when he does.

"We haven't. You've been preoccupied."

"Molly tell you we're trying to get pregnant?"

"Yes."

"You'd be an uncle. How do you feel about that?"

" . . . Uncomfortable."

"Why?" Will asks, looking over at his companion. Hannibal's gazing out over the river, the sunlight reflecting off of his glasses. Every deep etching in his face -- the ones bracketing his mouth and entrenching his eyes -- feels painfully familiar to Will. As though the lines had been gouged out of his own flesh, rent from underneath fingernails and scratched across corneas.

"I feel as if we've been here before. When we discuss raising children . . ."

"Stop."

"Why?"

"You're right. It's uncomfortable."

Hannibal stops.

The clank of the screen door indicates Molly's return. Will turns and looks at her, tousled and sunburned and oh-so-happy, before he notices what she's clutching in her right hand.

Hannibal's wallet.

"Will, honey, I think you left your wallet on the kitchen table." And before Will can stop her, she flips the wallet open to look at the drivers license inside.

The emotions flicker across her face at a rapid-fire pace: bewilderment and then disbelief and then the numbing terror that hits at the moment of revelation. And, oh god, why didn't he burn that fucking wallet in the backyard? She pries the drivers license out of its plastic envelope, dropping the wallet onto the dock. Running her fingertips across the print, she asks: "What's this, Will?"

"Doc, get inside the house."

"Will --"

"Now."

Hannibal doesn't argue.

Molly just stands there -- looking at those two words, printed in standard serif font. "What's this, Will?"

"It's a drivers license."

"Whose?" she asks, even though she already knows the answer.

"Doc's."

"I know this name."

"I'd be surprised if you didn't."

"He's . . ." She stops herself, pressing the back of her hand against her mouth. Will's worried that she might sick up over the side of the dock -- but she manages to restrain herself. "I didn't recognize him. I mean, I watch the news and everything. I saw the trial and . . . I didn't recognize him."

"You weren't looking for him."

"I thought he . . . Isn't he supposed to be dead?"

"Yes."

"Is this real?"

He considers lying to her -- but she already knows the truth. She's just looking for an easy out. He doesn't blame her.

"Yes."

"Oh."

" . . . Please don't tell anyone."

She laughs then. An unnaturally frantic laugh that catches in the back of her throat. "There's a murderer inside that house and you don't want me to tell anyone? Who are you?"

"Will Graham."

"Will Graham." She squints in concentration, trying to work out where she's heard that name before. And then her eyes widen in recognition: "The FBI agent. The one that got stabbed."

"Yes."

"What is this? Some kind of . . . investigation? Are you . . . Is he some kind of informant? Are you undercover?"

"He's my friend who's suffered brain damage and now I'm taking care of him."

"You're serious, aren't you."

"Yes."

"How did he . . .?"

"He had a lobotomy. In the psychiatric hospital. They were experimenting on their patients and he was . . . collateral damage."

"He murdered all of those people."

"Yes."

"He tried to murder you."

"Yes."

"Stop fucking saying yes!" she shouts, throwing the drivers license into the water. "What the fuck is happening here, Will?"

"He's my friend who's suffered --"

"No, don't you give me that bullshit. Don't you give me that bullshit, Will Graham. I am your wife. I deserve better than that."

"I don't know what else to tell you, Molly."

"How . . . how could you have lied to me like that? How could you . . . I left him alone. With my son. How could you have let me . . . ?"

"He's completely safe."

"Really, Will? He's completely safe? The psychopathic serial killer is completely safe? Fuck you."

"I mean it. You can look at his brain scan --"

"Fuck you."

She stumbles down onto her knees then, leans over the side of the dock, and retches into the water below. They can both see the smears of food coloring leftover from the macaroons -- staining the puddle of vomit all the colors of the rainbow.

"Oh my god," Molly whimpers, rubbing the back of her hand across her lips. "Oh my god, he's my pastry chef." Her chest convulses then, heaving violently with unrestrained sobs. Will takes a step forward to comfort her -- and she recoils so suddenly that she tumbles down into the river . . . and she's wading in brackish water and sugary regurgitation . . . and she's sobbing . . .

"Molly, please. Get out of the water."

"Fuck you!" she screeches, the pitch of her voice causing the dogs in the surrounding yards to start barking.

"Please calm down," he whispers, kneeling on the dock and extending a hand to her. "Let's not get the neighbors involved."

"No, let's get them involved. Let's get them over here right now. Hey!" She screams out to anyone who will listen, her voice cracking in desperation. "Hey, there's --" Will grabs onto the knotted fabric of the halter top at the back of her neck and tugs, clamping his palm over her mouth.

"Molly," he whispers, "I'm not going to hurt you. No one's going to hurt you. But I need you to calm down and be quiet now, okay?"

She goes limp suddenly. Perhaps she's afraid of what he might do. Perhaps she's simply exhausted. At any rate, she allows him to pull her out of the water and help her back onto the dock. She continues sniffling for a few minutes before she stops abruptly -- all of her emotions drained out of her.

"Why'd you do it?" she asks, barely audible. "Why would you ever do something like this?"

"Because he was suffering."

"Let. Him. Suffer."

"I can't."

Even though she's waterlogged and weary, she pulls herself to her feet, slipping on her flip-flops. "Well, Will, the way that I see it, we have two options here. We can call 911 right now. They'll come and arrest him, and we can start over again." He starts to say something but she cuts him off: "Because I love you. Even though you have made one hell of a mistake here." She uses her palms to press back her hair, trying to regain some semblance of composure. "Or you can stay here. And I call 911 and they haul both of your asses off to jail. I don't care either which way," she insists -- but the tears welling up in the corners of her eyes say otherwise.

"No one's calling 911," Will says softly, dropping his eyes to the dock. Because he cannot stand to look at her right now.

"Why not?"

"Because you wouldn't like what would happen to you and your son if you did."

"You mean what . . . he would do?"

"I mean what I would do."

"Oh my god."

And Molly takes off running for the driveway. She drops her keys trying to open her car door, her fingers twitching and trembling, but eventually she manages to slide into the driver's seat. She turns the key in the ignition, revs up the engine, and, tires squealing, pulls out into the street. She almost slams into the lamppost in her rush to get out of there.

She won't call 911.

She'll go home.

Pack her suitcases.

Pick her son up from Little League.

They'll be out of Florida in about an hour.

Will keens high in his throat -- the sound that a trapped animal might make -- squeezing his eyes shut against the suffocating reality of the world outside. When he opens them, he sees the drivers license floating in the water below. The photograph of a man that he used to know. The two words that dissolved his last hope of starting a family:

Hannibal Lecter.

The clank of the screen door. Will cannot think of anything to say. So he just waits, silent, on the dock. His peripheral vision catches Hannibal coming up beside him.

They stand there. Waiting for something.

Neither knows exactly what.

"I choose you," Will says suddenly. "I choose you every single time. And I don't know why."

"This has happened before."

"Yes."

Hannibal bends down and plucks his drivers license out of the water, shaking off the droplets that cling to the laminate. "You were arguing over my drivers license?"

"Not arguing so much as terminating our relationship," Will says with a wry smile.

"Why?"

"She asked me to choose. Between you and her."

"Why would she do that? She always seemed so accepting of our friendship."

"Yeah, well . . ." He shrugs, not sure what else to say.

"I have a feeling that you're not being completely honest with me, Will."

"I'm not."

Hannibal picks up his wallet from the dock, tucks the license back inside the plastic envelope. "I assume that you'll be moving back in with me."

"That sounds right."

"Would you like to come inside, Will?"

"Not yet, thanks."

Will stays on the dock until the early hours of the morning, when a shuddering band of orange stretches across the horizon, demarcating the transition from night to day. When he wanders back inside, Hannibal's waiting for him in the kitchen, perched on one of the stools by the countertop. He's thumbing through a textbook -- his nose almost pressed against the pages, so close that he can smell the pulp and ink. "Are you all right?" he asks, not even looking up at his roommate.

"Not really," Will exhales, dropping onto the stool next to Hannibal. Within moments, he feels fingertips scratching at the back of his neck, ruffling the tendrils along his hairline. He thinks about knocking Hannibal's hand away, even shifts his shoulder as if to stop him, but the blunt edges of Hannibal's fingernails feel so good against his skin . . .

"Is that all right?" Hannibal asks, scratching parallel lines down past the collar of his shirt.

"Yes."

Hannibal continues reading. Will, pressing his cheek against the granite countertop, allows himself to drift in and out of slumber. Hannibal's fingertips massage his scalp, work their way through the follicles of his curls. "What happened to your eyes?" Will asks during a moment of lucidity.

"Damage to the optic nerve. From the lobotomy."

"Does it just affect reading?"

"No."

Will looks up. The fingertips in his hair pause.

"Can you see me?"

"I'm not blind, Will."

There's something tense in Hannibal's voice, something tightly knotted up. Will tries not to read too much into it.

"Of course not."

Hannibal stands up and closes the textbook. "We should get to sleep. There's much to be done tomorrow."

"Like what?"

"Like starting a pastry shop."

----------

Will can't believe it when the orders start coming in.

They're submitted through an online form that Will accesses from his laptop -- requests for weddings and corporate events and alumni reunions. Hannibal spends most of his time in the kitchen nowadays, surrounded by half-empty bags of flour and mixing bowls coated in confectionery sugar. Today, there's a tray of croissants for a breakfast meeting on the countertop: surfaces brushed with butter and studded with caramelized almonds. "Please feel free to take one," Hannibal says, removing another tray from the oven. "I made more than the order called for."

Will hesitates. It's been a long time since he's eaten Hannibal Lecter's cooking.

Hannibal picks up one of the croissants and puts it on a spackled blue plate, spooning out a dollop of chocolate-hazelnut spread on the side. He holds it out to Will -- an offering, perhaps a consolation prize.

Will grabs the plate. Lifts the croissant up to his mouth. Takes a bite.

"'s good," he says, specks of butter pastry expelled with the words.

"I'm glad," Hannibal smiles, serving himself one as well. "These need to be delivered in about an hour."

"Sure."

Hannibal finishes off his croissant, licking the spread off of his thumb (a moment that makes Will all-too-conscious of his neurological damage -- his Hannibal would never have been so common), before he starts packaging up the remaining pastries. He closes up the box, affixing a pale blue seal to the top.

They'd spent hours bickering about the name of the pastry shop. Will's suggestions had all been hopeless; Hannibal's suggestions had all been pretentious. (Will had put in a bid for Delecterable before he remembered that their real names were strictly off-limits as long as they wanted to stay out of the Maryland prison system.) In the end, they had settled for Chien et Loup, part of a French idiom that no one in Southern Florida would understand.

"So why pick it then?" Will had argued at the time.

"The French indicates a certain level of wealth and class that will appeal to our target clientele."

"Because Southern Florida's so classy."

But Hannibal had been right. Chien et Loup became an overnight sensation around the Florida Keys, leaving them inundated with orders for baked goods. "Maybe we should hire some help," Will suggests, picking up the packaged croissants from the countertop. "We could probably afford someone to deliver the orders."

"I'd prefer having someone else in the kitchen."

"I could help in the kitchen," Will shrugs. And then off of Hannibal's skeptical glance: "Oh, come on! I'm not that bad at cooking."

Hiring a pastry sous chef would be out of the question; Will doesn't want anyone getting that close to Hannibal. He doesn't think that he could deal with another Molly Foster fiasco. So he tosses his ace out onto the table: "It would mean that we could spend more time together."

Hannibal doesn't think twice before saying: "I'll put an advertisement in the newspaper today. For someone to help with delivery."

Will's a slow learner in the kitchen. Hannibal spends most of his time modeling and re-modeling the most basic skills -- mixing the batter, whipping the frosting, rolling the fondant. But, even though there's more often than not eggshell caught somewhere in his curls, Will stumbles his way through his culinary tasks and they're eventually able to double their monthly revenue.

Will abandons his motorboat repair business.

Chien et Loup wins Best of Key West that year.

"Okay, we have a tray of petit fours for the Florida Keys Community College board luncheon and a triple-platter of cupcakes for the Santiago and Hughes wedding tomorrow afternoon. And we can't forget about the Gâteau Breton aux Pommes that we're donating to the ASPCA for their annual fundraiser . . . Christ, I just destroyed the pronunciation on that one, didn't I?"

"To say the least."

"That's why we don't do telephone orders. We should probably start with the petit fours. I'll take fondant duty." Will ignores the way that Hannibal watches him as he melts sugar and corn syrup over their kitchen stove. "Someday, we're going to have to upgrade our kitchen," he says, stirring the concoction until the sugar dissolves.

"Will."

The word puffs out a warm breath against the back of his neck. He had no idea that Hannibal was so close.

"What?"

"Thank you."

He feels the press of Hannibal's lips, paper-thin and slightly chapped, against the top of his scalp.

"Hannibal . . ."

"I know."

But Hannibal doesn't move away.

"I mean it. I'm recently divorced."

"Why do you keep doing this?" Hannibal asks, resting his palms heavily against Will's shoulders.

"I told you. I'm not interested in you like that."

"I don't mean that. Why do you have such a difficult time allowing yourself to be loved?"

"You're not my type."

"It's not just me, Will. What was my wallet doing on the kitchen table?"

"You must have left it there --"

"That's not possible."

"You probably just forgot --"

"I haven't so much as seen my wallet since we arrived in Florida."

". . . No."

"What do you mean?"

"No. I didn't put your wallet out on the kitchen table. I put your wallet on the upper shelf of my closet, in a shoebox, when we moved into the house. I'd have to use a footstool to even get up there. I'd remember . . . I'd remember if . . ." Will turns around, effectively dislodging Hannibal's hands from his shoulders. "No, you are not going to do this to me again."

"Do what?"

"Trying to make me doubt my own memories. You put the wallet out on the kitchen table. Now, you're going to try to convince me that I'm losing my mind. That's exactly the kind of thing you would do."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Will. I would never --"

Will knows that Hannibal doesn't remember anything that happened before the lobotomy. But this situation feels so familiar that he ignores all evidence to the contrary and pushes onwards: "You put the wallet there. So that Molly would find it. Is it that I have a difficult time allowing myself to be loved -- or that you have a difficult time allowing anyone else to love me? At the end of the day, you don't want me to have anything in my life that isn't you."

"I always supported your relationship with Molly."

"You were biding your time!"

"I want to see you happy."

"You dangle things in front of me and then you take them away!"

"Will."

"No, I'm done with this." Will turns off the stove, almost jerking the knob off in the process, and goes into the guest bedroom, slamming the door behind him. Hannibal stands outside for a few minutes before sitting, cross-legged, on the carpeted floor.

"I never wanted to hurt you, Will."

There's an audible chuckle from inside the bedroom.

"I know that I've put you through a lot. I have a feeling that I only understand the half of it."

"You don't understand any of it." Will's words are muffled by the plywood door.

"I wish you would explain it to me," Hannibal says, picking at the loops of the coral-colored carpeting. "But if you're not ready, then I hope that you'll believe me when I say that I never wanted to hurt you. If that was the result of anything that I did, I apologize."

"Why can't you just leave me be?"

"Do you want that, Will?"

Silence.

"When they told me that you weren't coming back, at the hospital, I couldn't imagine what my life would look like without you. I knew that I had existed before meeting you but, for some reason, such a time seemed almost beyond remembrance. As if everything before you had disappeared into so much dust." Hannibal pulls up a wad of yarn from the carpet, rolls it into a tight-knit ball, and sticks it inside the fleshy hollow of his cheek. "Maybe I don't want you to have anything in your life except me. You're all that I have."

Hannibal doesn't think that he's going to get a response but, after a few minutes, he hears a quiet: "My life is all the worse for having you in it."

"I'm sorry that you feel that way. Mine is all the better."

"Hannibal?"

"Yes?"

"Did you leave the wallet on the kitchen table?"

"No."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

" . . . I think I need you to take me to the hospital."

"What's wrong?"

"I was sick. When I first met you. I think that I may be relapsing."

"Sick?"

The door cracks open. Will leans against the doorframe, visibly worn down. "Encephalitis."

Hannibal stands up and rests the back of his hand against Will's forehead. "You're not running a fever."

"I'm not crazy. I had encephalitis."

"I hardly think you're crazy, Will. I think that you may be under a great deal of stress. I think that you may not be thinking clearly. But such lapses of cognitive function happen to us all."

Will reaches up to remove Hannibal's hand from his forehead. "You don't think I'm crazy?"

"Not at all. I think that you need some rest. After we deliver the petit fours, of course."

"Of course." Will stares at Hannibal for a few seconds, relearning all of the unspoken words kept hidden at the corners of his lips, before he entwines their fingers together. Hannibal's palm, pressed drily against his, feels awkward. "I don't want to be difficult to love."

"Loving you is the most natural thing in the world, Will. I only wish that you would allow yourself to accept what is being offered."

"It's hard to leave yourself exposed like that. I haven't had a lot of luck in the past."

"With other people?"

"With you."

Will pulls his hand away. Hannibal's warmth lingers in the webbed flesh between his fingers.

"I have a delivery."

"I can take you to the hospital, if you'd like."

"No," Will insists, shaking his head. "You're right; I'm just overworked." He brushes past Hannibal and makes his way towards the kitchen. "Where are the petit fours?"

"In the refrigerator."

Will grabs his keys off the countertop and shoves them into his pocket before retrieving the box from the top shelf of the refrigerator. He gets all the way to the screen door before Hannibal stops him with:

"You are loved, Will. More than you could ever know."

And, for once, instead of sweeping the comment aside with a brusque assertion of his heterosexuality, he simply says:

"Thank you."

And heads out into the warm midsummer afternoon.

Chapter Text

Six. Hippocampus.

The storm hits without warning. When Will goes out on the front stoop to pick up their neighborhood newspaper, he can sense the current whipping through the winds. He inhales the heavy oxidized scent of impending disaster. All of the children on their block, the ones who would normally be playing in the streets, are trapped inside their living rooms. He can see the face of the little boy across the street pressed up against the window pane, his cheeks leaving oily stains on the glass.

"There's going to be a storm," Hannibal announces when he comes back inside. The TV has been flipped to the Weather Channel, where a meteorologist tracks the acceleration of Tropical Storm Abby. "They're telling everyone to stay indoors."

"Not like we had much planned for today anyway." Will flops down onto the couch, the jagged edges of his toenails catching in the nylon of the throw pillows. "What do you want to do?"

"Nothing," Hannibal responds, squinting to get a better look out the window. "Do you think we should go somewhere else? We're right on the water . . ."

"It'll be fine," Will reassures him.

Less than two hours later, Will's wading around in muddy rainwater up to his calves, the storm surge having completely flooded the ground floor of their house. "We should move to higher ground," he remarks, pulling himself up the staircase, gripping the banister as though an unexpected tidal wave might sweep him away at any moment. Hannibal follows behind, as quickly as the backdraft will allow.

When they reach the landing, they look down on the swamp that they used to call a living room. "We have flood insurance," Hannibal mentions reassuringly. "It will give us a chance to get rid of that carpeting."

"We might drown and all you can think about is redecorating."

"Don't be ridiculous. The storm will calm down soon."

"You'll have to pardon me if I'm a bit skeptical."

"If we stay upstairs, we should be fine." Hannibal leads the way into the master bedroom, unbuttoning his waterlogged jeans and tugging them down over his hips. He casually tosses them into a corner of the room before crawling onto the bed, his boxer-briefs clinging to the muscles of his thighs. Will keeps his eyes firmly locked on the opposite wall.

"Do you want to read?" Hannibal asks, patting the space next to him on the comforter. Will hesitantly unknots his sweatpants, stepping out of them as they drop to the floor, and sits down on the bed. Hannibal selects a book from his nightstand, skimming the table of contents before passing it to Will. "It's about understanding the science of our habits so that we can develop new ones."

"Are there any particular habits you want me to think about developing?" Will asks, opening up to the first page.

"I would never wish for you to be anything other than what you are right now, Will."

"But . . ."

"If you could learn to wash the dishes when you're through cooking, I wouldn't complain."

Opening up to the first page, Will relaxes back against the pillows -- opening up his mind to the science printed on the page. They read in silence for a few hours, listening to the raindrops beating persistently against their clay tile roof. "I wonder what our living room looks like now," Will yawns, closing the book and tossing it onto the bedside table.

"Like the Ganges in springtime."

"I feel wrong going to sleep during a tropical storm that's flooded our house."

"I'll wake you up if we need to move into the attic."

"More like crawlspace," Will snorts, looking at the trapdoor in their ceiling. "I don't even know if we could both fit in there."

"We're remarkably resourceful; I'm sure that we'd find a way. Do you want me to turn the lights off?"

"No, you can keep reading. Just . . . don't let us drown, okay?"

"I'll do my best."

As Will allows his eyes to drift closed, it occurs to him that trusting Hannibal Lecter to keep them both from drowning might not be the smartest idea. Unconsciously, he scratches the bulbous knots of scar tissue on his abdomen. The wound hadn't healed normally, had produced a hypertrophic scar that spread, raw and fibrous, out from the stab site. Will had asked once about getting the excess tissue excised -- but his doctors had warned him off, saying that the scarring would probably come back. He had watched, in mild horror, as the scar thickened into collagen-filled tumorous bumps over the next six months. The rubbery surface had itched for years but now, he rarely thought about the scarring there.

Especially after his face got all cut up.

But still, he thinks as his conscious thoughts become indistinct and blurred, he should be staying awake. He should be watching out for himself.

But the day has been long.

And the rain sounds so soothing.

So he puts his life, once again, in Hannibal Lecter's care and falls asleep.

When he wakes up, there's an arm wrapped around his waist, a nose buried in the crook between his throat and shoulder, a thigh pressing down on his hip. Hannibal snores softly -- a fluttering noise that sounds as if his nasal passages have been partially blocked. His hair sticks up in the back, matted and unruly.

Hannibal's erection presses insistently against his pelvic bone.

It doesn't bother him as much as he thought it might.

Here, in the grayish light of the morning, after the storm has broken, Will wonders if there's a place for them together on the docks of Sugarloaf Key. If this is the space in the world that they have so carefully cut out for themselves after almost a decade of deception and manipulation and grudging friendship. He wonders if all of the rest -- Jack and Abigail and Alana and Molly -- has been leading up to this one moment, sleeping next to this one man, in their flooded house in Southern Florida. He feels uncomfortably full at that moment, a muddled jumble of feelings, none of which can be sufficiently expressed.

The snoring stops.

Hannibal's eyes flutter open.

"Good morning," Hannibal whispers. His breath smells dried-out and stale.

"Good morning. We didn't drown."

"So I see."

Before he can second guess himself, Will drops his head forward so that his nose is pressed against Hannibal's, so that their lips are millimeters away from one another. He can practically taste the spittle clinging to his roommate's lower lip, the residue of well-deserved sleep. He feels Hannibal's lips contorting into words: "Are you sure?"

"Yes," he exhales.

Millimeters may as well have been miles. That's how unprepared Will is for the feeling of Hannibal's lips pressed against his own. They remain utterly still, breathing into each other's mouths, each of them terrified of what will come next. It doesn't feel like kissing. It feels like resuscitation.

It feels like Hannibal's keeping him alive.

Finally, Will gives himself permission to stumble into the kiss. He shakily moves his lips, puckering and then releasing them, against his partner's, Hannibal inexpertly matching his efforts. Will realizes that he's actually trembling, his limbs spasming and convulsing underneath the comforter, and he doesn't know where to put his hands right now and he feels like he might start sobbing into the bottomless trench of Hannibal's mouth . . .

Hannibal's hands grip his waist, fingertips burying themselves deeply in his flesh. Will's knee automatically jerks up, a reflex triggered deep in his tendons, like someone has struck a little metal hammer against his patella. Hannibal shushes him, the vibrating sounds filling his mouth, echoing up the back of his spine.

Hannibal retreats slightly, leaving their lips pressed together but inanimate, as he reaches down past the waistband of Will's boxer-briefs. He presses the edge of his thumb against Will's glans . . . and Will comes completely undone. He screams, his vocal chords retracting, his throat cracking open, to release a howl born from the cavity of his guts.

Hannibal wraps his fist around Will's cock and jerks him off -- even as Will sobs and whimpers, even as tremors contort his limbs, even as mucus drips out of his nose, coating the bridge of Hannibal's lips. When he finally comes, they're both a mess of bodily fluids.

When Hannibal moves away to grab tissues from the bedside table, Will finally manages to get a grip on himself. He breathes deeply, trying to stop his shuddering, and eventually he's able to relax back into the mattress.

"I'm sorry," he manages to sputter out.

"Why?"

"That . . . left a lot to be desired."

"You weren't satisfied," Hannibal says, his lips twitching downwards.

"I wasn't satisfying."

"You were." Hannibal pushes Will's curls back behind his left ear, traces the edges of the cartilage with his fingernail.

Will looks up at him, tears congealing along the rims of his eyes. " . . . I'm drowning."

Hannibal kisses him once, firmly and without hesitation, on the forehead before rolling out of bed. As soon as the door to the bathroom closes, the lock clicking, Will finds that he can finally breathe again.

----------

It takes a lot of work for Will to fall in love with Hannibal Lecter.

It doesn't come easy like with Alana Bloom or Molly Foster. It's not effortless or instinctive or even particularly enjoyable. It's an irritating, uncomfortable, messy process that leaves them both rubbed raw and constantly aching.

But it's good.

It's so breathtakingly good.

Tropical Storm Abby leaves the ground floor of their house completely decimated. All of their kitchen appliances are broken, leaving stacks of rotten ingredients and an unscheduled one-month hiatus for Chien et Loup. They think about hiring someone to come in and renovate -- but, in the end, they decide to tackle all of the home improvements themselves. Will's always been good at putting things back together.

So they rip out that atrocious coral-colored carpeting, and they install hardwood floors, the scent of cedar permeating the walls. When they lay down the last plank, Will goes to the drug store and picks up a bottle of KY Jelly and a 10-pack of condoms. He ignores the side-eye he gets from the clerk, swinging the plastic bag as he jogs back home.

"Want to take on the kitchen next?" he asks, dumping his supplies on the stack of phone books that they've been using as a table. "We should get back to business."

Hannibal looks inquisitively at the plastic bag but doesn't mention it. "Of course."

Will starts unbuttoning his shirt.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm really proud of the work that we did on this floor," Will says, a seeming non-sequitur.

"As am I."

"I want you to fuck me on this floor."

The words come spilling out from between Will's lips in a rush of adrenaline-fueled courage. Before he has time to rethink or regret them.

Hannibal doesn't say anything.

"I've been thinking about this a lot," he confesses. Their sticky fumblings have almost become routine -- their fists grasped around each other's cocks, their mouths leaving bruised suck-marks on collarbones, their lips swollen into fleshy plumpness. They're covered in brush-burns from the scratchy friction of each other's beards. "I want to do this. I'm ready to do this."

"Will . . ."

Will pushes his khakis down over his hips, his boxer-briefs tugged down along with them. And then he's standing naked in the middle of their living room, his cock standing half-erect, nestled in its thatch of kinky pubic hair.

"Will." The uncertainty in Hannibal's voice gives way to a hushed awe.

"Please."

Hannibal steps closer -- and reaches out to touch the keloid bumps on Will's abdomen. Will grimaces, taking half a step backwards, but Hannibal just falls to his knees, pressing his lips to the tumorous borders of the stab wound. "Don't," Will sputters, grasping Hannibal's shoulders and pushing him away.

"Why not?"

"Because that's not for you."

"Whatever happened to you," he looks up at the scars traversing Will's cheek, "I want to take it back."

"It's not yours to take back," Will half-lies.

"I know. But I'm sorry all the same."

Hannibal grabs him by the hips, drags him forward, and bites deeply into one of the lumps of fibrous tissue. Will lets out a staggered breath -- pushing Hannibal away, pulling Hannibal closer, wrapping his fists in strands of graying blonde. And then Hannibal releases the keloid, lapping at the bite-mark with the flat of his tongue, before he shifts a few inches and wraps his mouth around Will's cock.

"Jesus fuck," Will curses, bucking up into Hannibal's throat. He feels Hannibal gag around his erection and pulls back.

He watches Hannibal suck him off. Down on his knees, sleeves rolled up so that his forearms are bare, palms resting on his denim-clad thighs. His glasses tumble off of his nose and clatter on the hardwood floor. Saliva drips out of his mouth, clotting in his beard. And, all the time, those lips -- that are tinted at least three shades darker than the rest of his flesh -- are stretched around his cock.

He pulls out at the last second and ejaculates against Hannibal's cheek.

"Please," Will begs, empty but not satiated.

"Not today."

Hannibal starts to stand up -- but pauses for a moment to press a kiss against each one of the keloid knots before rising to his feet. "Whoever did that to you," Hannibal murmurs, pressing his cum-slicked cheek against Will's, "I'll kill him."

Will staggers backwards, stopped only by Hannibal's hands wrapped tightly around his forearms.

"He's already dead," Will whispers, his voice cracking on the last word.

"Good."

Hannibal releases him and goes to the bathroom to clean up.

Will wonders, not for the first time, if a brain can rebuild itself.

Will builds Hannibal a kitchen. He pours every dollar left in his savings account into state-of-the-art appliances and stainless steel counter-tops. Hannibal installs shelving units into the walls and recreates the herb garden that used to sprout in his dining room. "Do you remember this?" Will asks, plucking off a thyme leaf.

"No. Should I?"

"You had an herb garden just like this back in Baltimore."

"Homegrown herbs far surpass anything that can be bought in a store," Hannibal explains, completely ignoring Will's comment. "I know that we're a bakery. But perhaps we should consider expanding our trade."

"Into what?"

"Catering."

"We don't have the staff."

"We can hire the staff."

"You can't go on-site."

Since his lobotomy, Hannibal has been mostly lackadaisical and pliant. But the way that his muscles clench, the way that his jaw sets in a hard line, Will knows that he's approaching the breaking point.

"We need to talk about our future, Will."

"I'm listening."

"It's been over a year now. We've established a business together; we're romantically involved." It's the first time that Hannibal's articulated the status of their relationship; Will wonders if the words sound anywhere near as awkward to him. "I don't understand why you still insist on keeping me locked up inside."

"Because if someone recognizes you --"

"I voluntarily went through an experimental medical procedure. I haven't broken any laws; I haven't committed any crimes."

"I just need you to trust that I'm doing what's right for you."

"I can't."

"That doesn't sound like the foundation for a healthy relationship," Will grouses, crossing his arms against his chest.

"I need you to tell me the truth, Will. I know that you think that you're protecting me -- but without all of the information, I have no way of defending myself. I'm completely reliant on you, which can only foster an unhealthy co-dependency."

"Unhealthy co-dependency is what we do best."

Hannibal opens a cabinet underneath the shelving units and removes a mister. He begins spraying the garden -- a light sheen of water droplets descending on the herbs. His lips are pressed tightly together, as if he wants to say something but he's restraining himself.

Whatever he wants to say, it's probably unspeakably rude.

"Hannibal," Will begins, feeling the condensation clinging to the thread-like strands of his eyelashes. "There's nothing to be gained by knowing the truth. It was horrific. These scars --" He clutches at his abdomen, as if the wound would reopen at any moment, blood dripping into the fertilizer. " -- are the least of it."

"Maybe that's something you need to talk about."

"Maybe not."

"Have you thought about going into therapy?"

Will almost laughs.

Almost.

----------

Will moves out of the guest bedroom and into the second-floor master. They wake up every morning, wrapped around one another -- the sounds of motorboats puttering past outside their bay window, accompanied by echoing tremolos of loons on the water. It's on a morning like this, uneventful by any measure, that Hannibal finally reaches for the lubricant that they keep in the bedside table.

"I feel that my entire life has been leading here," Will admits, as Hannibal snaps open the cap and squeezes a dollop of gel into his palm. "Not here, as in us . . ." He makes a vague motion that represents fucking. "But you and me, living in this house with a stream outside our window."

"This is what you want?" Hannibal murmurs, shifting a pillow underneath Will's hips and lifting his knees up.

And even though Will was the one who bought the lubricant and the condoms, he still shies away from Hannibal's finger pressing at his entrance. Hannibal pauses and asks again: "This is what you want?"

Will nods once, a sharp jerk of his head, before Hannibal pushes one finger past the rigid circle of muscle inside of him. Will puckers his lips together, exhaling a gust of breath towards the ceiling.

The loon wails in the distance.

Hannibal fucks him with his index finger. There's nothing especially titillating about the experience. He feels absurd with his knees spread, his legs suspended in midair. And while he doesn't mind the fullness of having someone inside of him, every time Hannibal pulls out . . . he kind of feels like he has to use the bathroom.

He doesn't really understand why anyone would make a fuss about this.

Hannibal adds another finger; Will bites down on his lower lip to keep from making noise. There's a shaft of sunlight warming the bed, catching in the wispy hairs along the back of Hannibal's neck. Like he somehow has managed to capture the light around him -- or like it clings to him and refuses to let go.

Hannibal squeezes out some more lubricant, the bottle making an embarrassing squishing sound, and Will watches as Hannibal fists his cock a few times. He maps out the veins on the underside, the wrinkles of his scrotum, so that he could draw them in a police sketch. He doesn't know why he does this. Hannibal shifts so that he's between Will's thighs; Will props his calves up on Hannibal's shoulders and wraps his ankles around his upper back.

"Will."

Will doesn't know what to call it -- Begging? Lauding? Praying? Whatever that one word means to him, Hannibal pushes himself inside of Will.

Will grunts, a guttural sound expelled straight from his stomach. Hannibal keeps pushing forwards until he bottoms out, his scrotum slapping heavily against the crevices of upper thighs, and then gives Will a few moments to adjust. Will closes his eyes, focusing on the sensation of having someone connected to him in this way.

It's intimate.

God. It's intimate.

When he opens his eyes, he's watching Hannibal watch him. He reaches up and tugs off Hannibal's glasses, tossing them on the floor next to the bed, and traces the creases around his eyes with his fingertip. Then he wraps his arm around Hannibal's neck, pulling him closer, adjusting the angle so that Hannibal slides even deeper into him, and says: "Move."

Hannibal fucks him in the early morning hours. He fucks him on the second floor of their house in Sugarloaf Key. He fucks him as children shout and splash in the river below their window. He fucks him as everything that happened before, all of the bloodshed and the cannibalism and the staggering loss, disintegrates in front of him. He fucks him until he's not certain where he ends and where Hannibal begins.

He fucks him until he realizes that he's never been certain where he ends and where Hannibal begins.

And when Hannibal comes inside of him, it's all the he can do not to say something idiotic like:

You are loved.

You have always been loved.

Hannibal brings him off manually, not bothering to clean him up afterwards. They doze for a few hours, waking sporadically to lick and mouth and bite at each other's flesh before drifting off again. When they finally come back up to the surface, Hannibal asks: "How was that for you?"

Will says the first word that comes to mind: "Intimate."

Hannibal's eyes flicker to his throat -- just for a moment.

"Intimate," he repeats.

"Yes."

He reaches over the edge of the bed, retrieving his glasses and settling them back on the bridge of his nose.

"I don't know how I feel about the actual fucking," Will reflects. "Maybe it's one of those practice makes perfect situations."

"If you're saying that we should practice more," Hannibal smiles, resting his chin on Will's chest, "then I'll choose not to be offended."

"You shouldn't be. I don't know how I feel about the actual fucking; I do know how I feel about you fucking me."

"Intimate."

"Yes."

Toenails scratching on the hardwood floors. Daz sprints into the bedroom and pounces onto the mattress, turning around in a circle a few times before plopping down next to them. He looks up at them, his droopy tongue panting in the warmth. "Daz," Will chides, reaching out to scratch behind his ears. "You shouldn't be on the bed."

"It's all right," Hannibal says, repositioning so that he's pressed against Will's back, so that he can inhale the specks of dandruff in Will's curls. "My family," he murmurs, before falling back into a doze.

The scar tissue on Will's abdomen itches that afternoon.

For the first time in a long time.

----------

They practice.

Frequently.

The actual fucking gets better. Will spends an inordinate amount of time on his back; spreading his legs doesn't feel quite so absurd anymore. They learn each other fluently, which spots to suck and pinch and thrust up against. They make picnics that they take out onto the docks -- and kiss each other as the sun sets behind the electric poles.

Chien et Loup goes back to business.

They're prepping an order of macaroons and tarts for a teenage girl's sixteenth birthday party. Hannibal cuts the fruit, using a paring knife to carefully remove the stalks and carve the cores out of the strawberries. Will, meanwhile, mixes the dough for the crust in a ceramic bowl.

"So I've been thinking about the whole catering deal . . ." Will starts, his wrist sore from whipping the wooden spoon.

"Yes?"

"We're making bank in the pastry business. I don't see any reason why we shouldn't expand."

Hannibal pauses for a moment, before going back to coring fruit. "You think you could manage the on-site work by yourself?"

"I don't have to manage the on-site work by myself. I was thinking that you could come and help me."

Hannibal actually puts down the strawberry then, resting the paring knife on the cutting board. "What about the risk of someone recognizing me?"

"You'll be working in the kitchen. None of the guests will see you. And even then, you're right. No one will be looking for you. We don't have to be in hiding for the rest of our lives."

Half a second later, the mixing bowl's forgotten on the counter-top and Hannibal has him pressed against the wall, sucking on his lower lip.

It's at that moment that the doorbell rings.

"We should get that," Will laughs as Hannibal kisses his way down his throat.

"They can come back later."

The doorbell rings again.

"Oh, fuck," Will gasps as Hannibal slides onto his knees and mouths at the front of Will's jeans.

The doorbell rings again.

"I don't think that they're going away," Will says, side-stepping Hannibal and crossing to the foyer. "I'll be right back."

He opens the door and looks up.

The loon wails -- a haunted, forgotten sound that echoes over the stream.

"Hello, Will."

. . .

"Hello, Jack."

Chapter Text

One. Verum.

“We are all victims of what is done to us. We can either use that as an excuse for failure, knowing that if we fail it isn't really our fault, or we can say, 'I want something better than that, I deserve something better than that, and I'm going to try to make myself a life worth living.'"
- Howard Dully

The highway stretches out into the distance -- flanked on either side by columns of foliage, sagging listlessly in the midnight heat. Speeding by with the radio cranked all the way up, a dubstep beat causing the metal frame to thump with bass-induced vibrations, a patrol car passes Exit 300 to Front Royal Washington.

"Yo, you wanna stop at the McDonalds?"

He has to shout to be heard and, even then, she needs to punch the dial before she can understand a word he's saying.

"To get what?"

"Dunno. Some hash browns or somethin'."

Officer Ardelia Mapp shrugs and continues highlighting passages in a crumpled packet, printed from her home computer. She squints her eyes, trying to make out the small type -- the only light coming from the headlights of their patrol car. "Shit, why do they make these so hard to read?"

"They want to make you work for that detective shield."

"Yeah, 'cause I've been spending the past three years as a police officer sitting on my ass."

"Why you wanna go into homicide anyway? We've got a good thing going here."

"I don't just want to go into homicide. I'm going all the way to the FBI." She tosses the packet aside suddenly and turns to look at her partner. "Don't tell anyone back at the precinct."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm a fucking black woman trying to get into the Bureau. Do you know how many of us successfully make it through those doors?"

"No idea."

"One percent. We make up one percent of federal agents. I have a better chance of getting hit by a car."

"Bullshit," Officer Jason Serrano says. He grabs a lukewarm soft drink from the cup holder and takes a swig. It went flat about an hour ago, but he's never been good at staying focused during the late-night beat. He needs all the help he can get and, in this case, "help" comes in the form of thirty grams of sugar. "Anyone has a chance of getting into the Bureau, it'll be you." He gives her a smile, taking another sip. "Agent Ardelia Mapp, Behavioral Analysis Unit."

"Get the fuck out."

"Seriously. You're smarter than all of us put together."

"That doesn't mean anything. You're a bunch of idiots. Besides, if I --" She trails off, her gaze fixed on the deeply shadowed embankment next to the highway. "Did you see that?"

"See what?"

"Stop the car."

"What?"

"Just . . . turn around and go back for a second."

They find the transport vehicle abandoned in a ditch just outside of Arlington. There are no license plates on the vehicle, no distinguishing logos to indicate which facility they were coming from.

When they open up the back doors, the scent of urine and fecal matter smack into the officers with a nauseating vengeance. Mapp quickly covers her nose with the sleeve of her jacket. It's dark but the beam of her flashlight illuminates the bench seats. She counts twelve patients, all restrained with padded cuffs, although none of them appear to be dangerous. On the contrary, their eyes all have a thick layer of glaze coated on them; their chins are all moist with spittle.

"The fuck," Mapp whispers, hoisting herself up into the truck.

"Yo, you sure you want to go in, Ardelia?" Serrano asks, edging away from the truck. "There could be some zombie-grade shit all up in there -- like World War Z. You wanna get infected?"

"Shut the fuck up, Serrano."

"I'm serious! Look at them. If that ain't something straight out of a horror movie, I don't know what is. They're probably being transferred from psycho-central --"

"It's not psycho-central. It's a state hospital."

"Tell that to Hannibal the Cannibal."

"Please. That motherfucker's dead, and you're going to be too in a few minutes if you don't get your ass up in here."

She approaches one of the patients slowly, keeping her finger pressed against the safety of her revolver the entire time. When she's standing right in front of him, close enough to smell the dry-rot coating his tongue, she looks at the plastic band wrapped around his wrist. There's no name printed there -- only an ID number: 0004. "You've got to see this," she calls out to her partner, who clamors up into the truck.

"What the fuck happened to them?" he asks, poking one in the shoulder with his index finger.

"Dunno. We need to call this in though."

"Call it in and say what?

"That we've got a bus full of patients out here." She shines the flashlight directly into 0004's eyes; his pupils flaccidly refuse to dilate or follow the beam. "They're non-responsive. And there are no identifying documents."

"Okay." But Serrano doesn't move a single inch.

"You waiting for an invitation?"

"Come with me."

Mapp turns around, her dreadlocks swinging around her cheeks. "What?"

"I feel like I'm going to leave and one of these motherfuckers is going to lunge at you and chew your face off."

"Are you fucking kidding me, Serrano?"

"But Ardelia --"

"Call. It. In."

Serrano shuffles reluctantly out of the vehicle, while Ardelia checks 0004's vitals using the scant medical knowledge that she learned at the police academy. The flesh around his chapped lips has become irritated, inflamed with raised welts from all of the saliva. Drool rash, her sister called it when her first infant was teething. Ardelia plucks a lint-coated tissue from the pocket of her uniform and uses it to sop up some of the drool from his chin. "It's okay," she murmurs, wiping the expanse of his chapped lips. "We're gonna figure out who you are. We're gonna get you some help."

But there's no helping this man.

Ardelia already knows that.

----------

There's a lot of hemming and hawing over who has to pick this one up. When the state police arrive on the scene, they misconstrue the case as an irresponsible ambulance driver wandering off in the middle of his shift. "Where the fuck would he be running off to along the I-66?" Mapp mutters so that only her partner can hear. They've both hunkered down on the embankment, pulling their patrol jackets tight around them. "On foot? Are these motherfuckers for real?"

"Just let them do their thing," Serrano shrugs, leaning back against the crumbling dirt. "They'll figure it out eventually."

It takes them calling every hospital in a thirty mile radius before they start to realize that this isn't an ordinary case of negligence by some fly-by-night private ambulance company. They eventually get in contact with the Virginia Department of Health who agree to send out licensed ambulances for the patients. "Hey," the lead detective calls over to Mapp and Serrano. "Would you two deadbeats mind putting up some yellow tape?"

"I thought this wasn't a crime scene."

"Don't be a smartass, Mapp. You aren't the one with the shield around here."

After a few choice words under her breath, Mapp staggers to her feet (numb from cold, prickling from lack of circulation) and heads over to the police car for their gear. "Let's hit the perimeter."

They've got the whole area taped off and secured by the time the paramedics arrive. "Holy shit," one of them says, stepping up into the ambulance. "What are they on?"

"I don't think they're on anything," Mapp responds, standing next to him. "Look."

She takes out her flashlight and shines it into 0004's eyes once again.

"Brain damage?"

"That'd be my guess."

The paramedic squats down in front of the patient and starts taking his vitals. "You been here long?" he asks Mapp.

"Couple of hours."

"He responsive?"

"Nope."

"Fuck." He stands up again, jotting down a few stats in the small notebook that's been jammed into his pocket, fragments of white paper clinging to the metal rings from where sheets have been torn out haphazardly. "We'll send them over to Sibley Memorial. Where do you think they're from?"

"I'm telling you," Serrano interjects. "Psycho-central."

"Don't pay attention to my partner," Mapp says dismissively. "He's a fucking moron. He thinks they may have been coming from the BSHCI."

"We'll put in a call to Chilton. See if they have any transfers scheduled this week." The paramedic jumps out of the back, taking another glance at the vehicle. "Don't know why they'd be moving them in an unmarked van though. Seems a bit sketchy."

Mapp agrees. And maybe that's what prompts her to say: "Don't call anyone for now. Let us phone it in."

The paramedic shrugs indifferently and starts directing the staff to load the patients onto stretchers. One by one, they're rolled out of the back of the transport vehicle -- their chins damp and raw, their eyes insensate, their hands dangling limply off of the aluminum frames. Mapp takes out her cell phone and dials a number that's been stored in her contacts list for almost a year, but that she's never had the guts or the reason to actually call.

"Jack Crawford."

"Agent Crawford. This is Officer Ardelia Mapp from up in Arlington. We met at the NBPA Conference last year. I was interested in working with behavioral sciences; you gave me your card."

"Little bit early in the morning for career advice, don't you think, Officer Mapp?"

"I'm not calling for any advice, sir. We found an unmarked transport vehicle outside of Arlington, twelve patients in the back all of whom are unresponsive."

"Unmarked. Private ambulance company?"

"We called all over the Greater Washington Area; there's nothing on the books. Look, sir, I'm not just calling on a hunch. These patients -- they all seem to have some kind of brain damage. And for twelve patients in the same unmarked transport vehicle to have the same neurological affliction? Something's not quite right here."

"Sounds like a job for the local precinct."

"I don't know, sir," Mapp says, turning to look at the lead detective who's chatting up one of the paramedics. She giggles obligingly; he rests his palm on her shoulder. "I think that this might be an interstate deal. They might be patients from the BSHCI."

"Why do you think that?"

"I . . ." Mapp fades off mid-sentence. Why does she think that? Because their tongues are hanging half out of their mouths and they're pissing their pants. But she knows that none of that equals "criminally insane." Maybe she is just calling on a hunch . . .

"Look, can you take some photos of the patients and text them to me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do that. Let's see what you've got."

The paramedic from earlier is hoisting himself up into the front seat of the ambulance when Mapp comes jogging up alongside him. "Hey! Mind if I get another couple of minutes with the patients?"

"Don't think they're going anywhere in a hurry," he shrugs. Careful not to draw attention to herself (especially from the actual detectives on the scene), she hops into the back of each ambulance, one-by-one, and with a click takes photographs of all the patients. They're not the best quality -- she's still using a phone that flips open, thanks to her shitty MPDC salary and a family that needs her income -- but she sends them over to Jack Crawford anyway. Her phone starts ringing almost immediately.

"Mapp, where are those ambulances heading?"

"Sibley Memorial."

"Get into one of them now; I'll meet you at the hospital. Do not let them call Frederick Chilton or anyone from BSHCI. Do you understand?"

"Of course, sir."

"Mapp?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Good work."

----------

Jack Crawford is already waiting in front of the hospital's sliding glass doors when the first ambulance pulls up. He's exactly like she remembered him -- a square-jawed bruiser who somehow manages to radiate a paternal warmth despite (or perhaps because of) his imposing frame. Mapp hops out of the back as the paramedics release the ramp and begin wheeling out the stretcher. "Agent Crawford."

"Officer Mapp." He takes a step closer to examine the patient strapped onto the gurney.

"Look familiar?"

"Unfortunately. He murdered thirteen women. Started back in 1972."

"I've never seen him before."

"It was a low-profile case."

They both know that "low-profile case" is the FBI's feel-good terminology for minority victims living below the poverty line. They were probably single mothers, drug addicts, prostitutes. Women who were considered easily disposable.

"Did you recognize any more of them?" she asks, gesturing to the patients.

"I recognize all of them -- but, then again, that's my job. You were right; they're all patients from the BSHCI. The last time I saw them in court, at their sentencing hearings, they were mentally unstable, but all of them were lucid enough to make statements in their defense." He takes another sidelong glance at the serial killer being wheeled into the hospital lobby; his nostrils have started dripping with watery mucus, accumulating slickly on the bridge of his upper lip. "They certainly weren't like this."

"I take it you won't be following up with Dr. Chilton then?"

"Not until we get some answers about what's wrong with them."

"How long do you think that will take?"

Crawford shrugs. He reaches down into his coat pocket, pulling out some quarters. "Might as well grab some coffee while we wait."

Mapp and Crawford sit side-by-side on a stainless steel bench. They're in the corridor outside of the hospital rooms where the patients are being tested by a battery of physicians. The entire hallway gleams with a bleached sterility; all of the visible surfaces are both white and washable. Crawford lifts a styrofoam cup of machine-dispensed coffee to his lips, taking a leisurely sip. "So," he asks, "you're still thinking about applying to the Bureau?"

"Yes, sir. I'm taking my investigator exam next week. I'm hoping for a transfer to homicide."

"I'll put in a good word with Locarno over at central. I'd like to think that I still have some pull with the MPDC."

"Thank you, sir."

"It's going to be a while before you qualify for the Academy -- but when you get to Quantico, I always have a spot for a detective with good instincts. Especially one coming into the program with a criminal psych background."

"I'm taking night classes. Going for my MA in forensic psychology."

"Good. That'll put you ahead of the curve, Mapp." Crawford pauses a moment, the steam billowing up from the surface of his coffee cup. "Although I can't help thinking that maybe behavioral analysis isn't the best choice for anyone . . ."

"I've known that I wanted to work for the BAU since my senior year of high school, sir."

"So did Miriam Lass."

Mapp goes quiet after that.

They're eventually summoned into the office of the Director of Neurosurgery, a man with enough framed degrees behind him to cover an entire whitewashed wall. "I've never seen anything quite like this, Agent Crawford," he begins, scanning the paperwork in the manila file folders. "At least not in modern medicine."

"What do you mean?"

"These men have all been lobotomized. Experimental transorbital lobotomies -- although you can see a progression of success if you look at all of the patients on a continuum. They were refining the technique, although they never reached a stage where the brain damage wasn't debilitating. Still, Patient 0012 may be able to make a partial recovery. He's lost a good portion of his higher intellect, but we might be able to eventually get some information about what happened. He might even be able to hold down a menial job and reside in an assisted-living facility."

"These men are all going back to jail," Mapp interjects. "They're all serial killers."

"They're all harmless," the neurosurgeon corrects in a tone that he probably wouldn't use with anyone other than a black female police officer. "There's no point in locking them up again; most of them can't even use the bathroom without the aid of a nurse."

"So you think we should just let them go?"

"I think that spending a lifetime sitting in your own waste until hospice decides to change your diaper is punishment enough." The doctor's cell phone vibrates, clacking loudly against his desk. "Honestly," he adds, glancing at the incoming text, "the only thing I don't understand is why the physician responsible stopped when he did. Looking at 0012's brain scan, it's clear that he was finally making some progress. I personally respect my commitment to primum non nocere" -- and then with a pointed look at Mapp -- "'first no do harm,' but if this had been me . . ." He gets up from his desk, slipping his phone into the pocket of his lab coat. "I would have kept going. If you'll excuse me."

He leaves the office without waiting for an answer.

"Any chance that he did it?" Mapp asks.

"Wishful thinking. Unfortunately, being a condescending ass isn't a crime." Crawford turns to the young police officer: "Can you give me a profile?"

"Why bother with a profile? We already know who's responsible."

"How?"

"Who else had unlimited access to all of these patients? Who else had the resources to perform experimental surgeries and the influence to keep the rest of the staff silent? How else could they have kept these men sheltered and fed if the Director of the BSHCI wasn't onboard? There's a time for profiling, and then there's a time for straight-up logical deduction, sir."

She's a spitfire. One with common sense. Crawford likes her.

He might like her too much to hire her.

After all, he doesn't have the best track-record when it comes to keeping his agents alive and unharmed.

"I suppose," he says, rising to his feet, "it's time to go see Dr. Chilton."

Chapter Text

Two. Aletheia.

"Hello, Will."

. . .

"Hello, Jack."

Will steps out onto the front stoop. He keeps his gaze locked on the latch hook mat underneath his feet, the word WELCOME threadbare and distorted from sun-baked afternoons and the percussive patter of the South Florida storms.

"How have you been?"

Will shrugs dismissively.

"Are you going to invite me in?"

Will shifts his weight backwards, using his callused heel to knock the door shut behind him. "The house is a mess," he explains, leaning back against the sheet of fiberglass safeguarding the house of cards that he and Hannibal have built together -- the one that teeters precariously with every inhale that Jack Crawford takes, the foundations threatening to collapse into a glossy Bicycle-brand deck flung scattershot across their carpet.

"I heard an interesting story, Will," Jack begins, shoving his fists deep into his pockets.

"I'm sure you hear lots of interesting stories, Jack. That's part of your job."

"True. But this one was especially interesting. It came from Dr. Chilton."

"You should know better than to listen to a word he says."

"Really."

"His intellectual aspirations reach far beyond his actual ability level."

"Do they."

Will hums quietly in affirmation.

"Without spoiling the ending," Jack continues, "we found a group of patients, all presumed dead, being transported from the BSHCI by the side of the road. They all had the same signs of brain damage, which the doctors concluded was the result of transorbital lobotomies. You know what a transorbital lobotomy is, Will?"

"Yes."

"We were told that there was another patient, one that we didn't find in the ambulance."

"So you came to me."

"So we came to you." The call of the loons echoes dully through the streets in the early morning mist. "It wouldn't be the first time."

They come to an impasse. Will already knows how this will end; Jack's got him in check, and he has limited choices when it comes to his next move. Has he talked to Molly?, he wonders, thinking for the first time in months about the wife that drove away in her back-lot junker of a car. And then, a thought that he'd never admit to having, one that he pushes out of his mind a split-second after it, unbidden, enters: Maybe we shouldn't have let her leave.

"I don't know what to say, Jack," Will replies, crossing his arms against his chest. "I don't have anything for you."

"Then invite me into your home."

"There's a diner down the street, if you'd like to --"

"I don't think I'll find what I'm looking for in the diner down the street."

"Where do you think you'll find it?"

"In your kitchen."

And, just like that, the flick of a fingernail against the Two of Hearts, lodged firmly into the base of the structure. The card jitters and gives way -- and then, one-by-one, the entire deck comes tumbling down.

Will opens the door.

Their living room has been lifted from the pages of Home and Garden magazine -- clean beige walls with butterscotch trimming. Throw pillows have been casually flung onto the floor, leftover from the previous afternoon when they fell asleep on the couch watching television and forgot to tidy up afterwards. Will feels a tight clenching in the pit of his stomach, like someone grasped the muscle in their fist and wrung it out like a dishrag -- the suds filling his bowels. He picks up one of the throw pillows, a blush-colored flower hand-embroided on the cotton, and neatly props it up against the armrest. He remembers buying that pillow at an arts and crafts show in Fort Lauderdale, on his way home from delivering a dozen platters of honeycomb squares for a wedding.

"Doesn't really look like you," Jack observes, taking in the wicker coffee table, piled high with travel periodicals, and the carefully-potted bamboo tree in the corner. "Either of you."

"With all due respect, Jack, you don't really know us anymore."

As if on cue, Hannibal strides into the living room, mixing bowl nestled in the crook of his left arm. He has a smudge of vanilla frosting on his cheekbone, right below the rim of his glasses. He's wearing a pair of blue jeans with worn-out knees that are giving way to ratty holes and a form-fitting gray T-shirt, purchased at Kmart. "Who's this?" he asks Will, smiling amiably -- like the fish naively approaching the bait without a second thought.

"Jack, you remember Hannibal. Hannibal --"

"You don't remember me," Jack says, taking a step forward and extending his hand.

"Unfortunately. If you wouldn't mind reminding me . . ."

"I was Will's supervisor."

"On the police force?"

With a pointed look at Will: "Yes."

"You're the only one who has come to visit Will so far; I was beginning to think that he didn't have friends. Can I get you anything from the kitchen? We're going to have macarons left over. I'd be more than happy to bring them out."

"I just had breakfast."

"I'll have one," Will cuts in quickly.

"I'll bring a dish out," and then with a glance towards Jack, "just in case."

And with that, Hannibal disappears back into the the kitchen. Jack sits down on the couch, stares at the scrubbed-off trace of a stain on the wall, left over from an unfortunate red wine spill.

"Oh, Will," he exhales. "What have you done?"

"What was I supposed to do, Jack?" Will counters, moving in closer so that Hannibal won't overhear their conversation. "He didn't remember anything. I wasn't exactly rushing to tell him that he was on the FBI's Most Wanted List."

"Or that you were the one who caught him."

"I didn't catch him exactly."

"He's going to find out."

"He doesn't have to," Will says, sitting down next to Jack on the couch. "Jack, you can just leave. I'm betting that you didn't tell anyone about the other patient, that no one even knows that you're here. Am I right?"

"If I tell you 'yes,' am I going to walk out of here alive?"

"He doesn't remember anything; there's no risk to the general public. We're just trying to move on with our lives."

"I know, Will. And I don't believe in being unnecessarily punitive. But you're going to get caught. It's not like you fled across state lines with someone who held up a 7-11."

"But --"

"And when you do get caught, and you will, that's going to come down on me and the Bureau." The sound of a utensil drawer opening and closing in the kitchen, the rattling of stainless steel. "Come back to Quantico. All of the patients are being transferred to Georgetown Medical's neuroscience department for further study. So far, there's been no push to send them back to max."

"So far."

"You want to keep him safe," Jack sighs, rubbing the palms of his hands against his eyes. "I get that, Will. What was done to him . . . I can't say that he didn't have it coming, but the situation is horrific all the same. I promise that if you both come with me, he will be safe. That you will have unlimited access to him. That he will get all of the medical care and attention that he requires."

"We're doing fine here --"

"Be honest with me. Have you taken him to the doctor once since you left Baltimore?"

"He hasn't been sick."

"He had part of his brain cut out. That's probably something you want to keep tabs on."

Footsteps across the linoleum floor. Will leans forward and, lowering his voice, says: "I don't want him to find out."

"Will, you could lock him in a closet for twenty years. He would still find out eventually. The only thing that you have control over right now is how he finds out."

Hannibal returns, carrying a ceramic serving tray littered with the misshapen afterthoughts of a macaron tower. Some of them have dabs of meringue powder stuck along the edges from where they were affixed to the styrofoam cone and then removed. He shuffles the serving tray onto the coffee table and takes a seat opposite their guest.

"I recommend the French chocolate macarons with the chocolate ganache," he comments, gesturing to the cookies stuffed with cream. "But all of them are worth trying."

"I have no doubt."

Will grabs one of the chocolate macarons and bites down, as if stuffing his mouth full could keep words from ever having to spill out. Unfortunately, Jack decides to intercede:

"Hannibal, I think that Will has something to tell you."

"Oh?"

Will watches while Hannibal's brain, damaged as it might be, cycles through the possibilities.

"We need to go back up North."

"Did something happen?"

"Jack feels that you need more medical attention."

Hannibal redirects his attention to Jack.

"Really." He picks up one of the macarons, using the edge of his fingernail to scrape away the cream that's spilled out over the edges of the cookie. "I can assure you that I have no need for medical supervision. I've been monitoring my health over the past few months, and there have been no signs of epilepsy or incontinence, no loss of motor control --" He removes his glasses and, with a dishrag that's been shoved into his pocket, cleans the thick lenses wedged in-between plastic. "There was some damage to the optic nerve during the procedure, but I've been able to work around the condition."

"With all due respect, Doctor," Jack says, the appellation slipping in more out of habit than respect or endearment, "those glasses wouldn't do shit for optic nerve damage. They're, what, magnifiers?"

Hannibal nods. His face remains actively blank.

"You have a hard time seeing, don't you?"

"It's nothing significant."

"But it's getting worse." And then off of Hannibal's silence: "You brought out an entire tray of macarons that are, to your standards, inedible. You made too many mistakes -- piping the cream, garnishing the chocolate. Mistakes that can't be attributed to motor skills because you've always been able to cook with precision, right? It's because you can't see your work clearly."

Will stands up from the couch, the throw pillow falling off of the armrest and onto the floor once again. "What's he talking about?" And then when a response isn't forthcoming: "Is he right, Hannibal?"

"It's nothing to be concerned about, Will."

Will rocks back on his heels a few times, arms crossed tightly against his chest. Then he turns to look out the window -- the palm fronds nestled up against the open shutters of their windows; the sidewalk, so warm that if you poured a glass of tap water out on the cement, it would fizzle and spurt steam. His tackle box, loaded with lures that they crafted together on the psychiatric ward, waits by the front door. "We have to go back up North then."

"Will --"

"Will worked for the FBI."

Jack looks straight into Hannibal's eyes -- the diluted, watered-down umber.

"Will worked for the FBI. You were a serial killer. He was the one who caught you."

Hannibal's lips quirk up into a smile, and yet the smile doesn't reach his corneas.

"I'd have a difficult time believing that."

"How often do you leave this house, Hannibal? When was the last time he took you out for dinner? Or allowed you to go out shopping for your own clothes?" Hannibal slowly twists a wicker stalk on his chair around and around, until it snaps off in-between his fingers. "And what about the friends that he makes outside of the house? Does he use your actual name with them -- or has he given you some kind of ambiguous sobriquet, something that seems affectionate so you don't especially mind?"

Hannibal sticks the wicker stalk in his mouth, against the soft fleshy surface of his inner-cheek, before turning to glance towards the window. "Will . . ."

"He monitors your reading materials closely; he doesn't let you watch television unless he's nearby and, even then, you're limited to certain channels. It's because there are still documentaries aired about you from time to time, mostly on cable crime stations, and he doesn't want you to know what you are, what you've done."

Hannibal gets up from his wicker club chair, picking up the plate of macarons. "I'm going to put these in the refrigerator for tomorrow, and then I'm going to clean up the kitchen."

Hannibal's almost out the door when Will finally speaks: "You ate them."

Hannibal stops, the platter almost jostling out of his grasp. "What?"

"Your victims. You cooked them, and you ate them. Or served them to your friends." And then in a much quieter voice: "It's why I didn't want you going in the kitchen. When we first moved down here."

Hannibal pauses, his glasses slipping down onto the bridge of his nose, his fingertips gripping the edges of the ceramic serving dish. He looks at Jack Crawford with a needle-pointed focus: "I'm going to clean up. When I get back, I'd like for you to be gone."

He walks back into the kitchen.

The sound of china clattering into the sink.

The sound of running water.

The sound of a deep hitch of breath that might be the beginnings of a sob.

Or a scream.