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The Courting Habits of Killers

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Grey stone walls. That’s all Will has been seeing in the past couple weeks. It’s terribly dull, but at least his mind is clear enough now to even realize dullness in the first place. The persistent personality residue of Garett Jacob Hobbs has vacated his mind together with the encephalitis and he is finally alone with his thoughts again. Well, as much as he can be anyway, with Chilton rubbing around his legs like a hungry cat. An ugly cat at that. Will barely endures their appointments by wading into the quiet of his stream. Abigail isn’t there anymore. Instead it’s a wendigo standing by his side in the water. Will doesn’t mind. But he can’t stay in his own mind forever and frankly, he is bored beyond all reason.

Playing with Chilton had been fun for a while, but even that doesn’t tickle his fancy anymore. No, he misses the company of a very specific psychiatrist. A sharp mind, that never backs down when challenged to a game of wits. A kindred spirit. And oh, Will hadn’t known just how kindred until he was entirely cured of his encephalitis and therefore able to piece together the puzzle that was Hannibal Lecter. If only the good doctor hadn’t kept that sickness a secret Will would’ve known so much earlier, would’ve seen past the facade of the man to find the beautiful monster lurking beneath. He would’ve been able to see. And perhaps even reciprocate.

The thing that no one knows about Will Graham, that even Hannibal had failed to see behind the fog of fever that had clouded Will’s mind, is, Will doesn’t simply empathize with killers, he is one of them. Wholly and completely. Entirely of his own volition. Will has never been the unstable, awkward teacher he presents the world to be. He wouldn’t dare calling himself sane, that would take it a step too far, but he is comfortable in his skin and in the minds of the killers he analyzes. They even come in handy, really. With his so called “pure empathy” he can dive deeper into the psyche of any killer than the best trained profilers the FBI has to offer and he learned to use that to his advantage when he accepted his… inclinations. When a serial killer with a body count in the double digits gets arrested, nobody cares if he denies killing one particular victim as long as the MO fits. And Will makes it fit perfectly. He’s not a copycat, no that doesn’t cover it. He doesn’t simply copy the work of another, he absorbs it and reproduces it immaculately. He doesn’t do it out of admiration either, it’s simply a matter of convenience and the desire not to get caught. All his kills so far have been attributed to another. Obviously not always the same, it was just here a victim more and there one more… nothing to raise suspicion that there might be another killer in the game. He’s hiding in plain sight, as one might say. Hannibal does the same, if in a quite different fashion. Will almost resents sending Matthew Brown to kill the good doctor. He’s so used to hiding who he really is that the prospect of such a kindred soul that he needn’t hide from now calls to him like a siren’s song. Of course he’s come across countless killers over the years, but the desire for a possible partnership is altogether new. There’s something about Hannibal that’s just… different. There’s a connection between them that Will can’t name, a mutual desire to understand and be understood. Will has never considered another killer worthy of his friendship before, and yet…

Hannibal Lecter is the Chesapeake Ripper, and Will couldn’t be happier about that. He is obviously still mad about having his brain cooked inside his skull, but he understands now what Dr. Lecter had tried to do. Not knowing what Will was, Hannibal had tried to help him become. Just that he is about ten years late for that. The absurdity of the whole situation almost makes Will burst into laughter. Fucking perfect. The only thing that could make this even better, would be if Will wasn’t still locked up in Chilton’s facility of utter boredom. Will is itching for a kill, hasn’t been able to make one since his sickness induced sleeping problems had started. Maybe the encephalitis is the reason why Hannibal hadn’t noticed Will’s very own monster, he had hardly been himself under the influence of brain melting illness. But now he is back to his old self and he is curious to see if Hannibal will notice the change. Before he can even attempt to invite Hannibal to be his playmate though, Will has to get out of here somehow.

~◊~

Will was brought to the visiting cells. There’s a small number of people who might want to see him nowadays. It can’t be Chilton, their therapy session is scheduled for a later time of day and Will hasn’t lost all sense of time just yet. It could be Hannibal, but Will knows the man and he’s still playing hurt at having almost been killed, he would wait a bit longer to approach Will again. That leaves Alana or Jack. Will can’t hear the clicking of high heels approaching, so he’d put his money on Jack. When the man actually enters, somber and slow, Will stands up inside the tiny cage.

“You're moving smoothly and slowly, Jack, carrying your concentration like a brimming cup,” Will says as Jack comes to stand in front of him, head held high and face grim as ever.

“Hannibal Lecter was almost murdered by an employee of this hospital. An attendant we believe killed the bailiff and judge in your trial.”

“He killed the bailiff. He didn’t kill the judge. That was the Chesapeake Ripper.”

“You know this?” Jack inquires.

“He told me.”

“And then you told him to kill Hannibal Lecter.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Nothing I said made that happen, Jack. It just happened.” It’s a blatant lie, but definitely not the first one Will has told right to Jack’s face.

“Don't seem too broken up about it.” It’s close enough to an accusation and Will pauses. Sending Brown to kill Hannibal had been a bit impulsive, he can admit that. He’d still been mad about the encephalitis and being framed for murder and also about Beverly. What if Brown had succeeded though? He doesn’t know. He doesn’t really want Hannibal dead. The man is just too interesting. A worthy companion for his own demon. He’d be no fun dead. Neither would he be much fun imprisoned. Well, it would be a hilarious way of exacting revenge, but getting him back out of jail would be a pain.

Will chooses his words carefully, “You said he was almost murdered. Which means he’s still alive. No reason to be broken up about something that was averted, is there?”

Jack gives him a long stare that almost screams that he isn’t buying it. Not yet.

“You still think Hannibal is the Ripper. Are you planning to kill him?”

“No.” It’s not a lie.

“No?”

“I want the Ripper behind bars. I want to stop him and what he does.” Well, that is a lie. But what Jack doesn’t know… right?

“What does he do, Will?” Silly question.

Will almost rolls his eyes but looks up at the ceiling instead, takes a purposefully shaky breath. “What does he do? What is the first and principal thing he does? What need does he serve by killing?”

“He harvests organs.”

Oh Jack, still not seeing the bigger picture. Will shakes his head jerkily. “No. That's only the action of what he does. Why does he need to do it?” A small pause for the dramatic effect and Will continues, “The Ripper kills in sounders of three or four, in quick order. Do you know why? I know why.”

“Tell me.”

Now Will looks at him again, but only briefly. “Because if he waits too long, then the meat spoils.”

“He's eating them? Hannibal Lecter is Garret Jacob Hobbs? A cannibal?”

“Not like Garret Jacob Hobbs. Hobbs ate his victims to honor them. The Ripper eats his victims because they're no better to him than pigs.” The idea of Hannibal being the Ripper has already been instilled in Jack, Will has to be careful to pull it out by the roots again. It has to be believable. He fidgets a little to remind Jack of the Will he knows. “And when, if you could remind me, have I proclaimed Hannibal to be the Ripper since you’re here?”

That catches Jack off guard and he just blinks at Will for a moment. “Are you saying you changed your mind?”

Will sighs. “With the exception of Beverly Katz, there's no connection between Hannibal and any Ripper victims. I’ve had a lot of time to think about the Ripper in here, Jack. And also about Hannibal. The profile might fit, but it probably fits about 30% of the Baltimore high society. I admit I might’ve been a bit… hasty in accusing Hannibal, but I was framed for murder and diagnosed with severe encephalitis. Things like that mess with ones judgement.” Will says it with as much remorse as he can muster and he can almost see Jack swallowing the bait.

“So just to be clear… what you’re saying is,” Jack speaks slowly, almost as though he is waiting for Will to change his mind again, "Hannibal Lecter is not the Chesapeake Ripper.”

Will only gives a tight little nod, “For the record, that doesn’t change anything about the fact that I’m innocent as well.”

Jack nods, “Yeah, sure.” It’s hard to tell whether he’s actually serious.

Then he says his goodbye and turns to leave, but before he can take a step, Will calls after him in a small voice, “Would you be so kind as to tell Hannibal my apologies? I’d hate for our friendship to break apart due to a sickness induced meltdown on my part.” He allows his voice to crack a little at the end, just to make it a little more convincing, but Jack already bought it anyway.

The agent doesn’t turn back around but he nods once and says, “Of course, I will.” Then he leaves, not seeing the smile that creeps onto Will’s face.

~◊~

Will lies on his bunk, thinking. He wants to talk to Hannibal, wants him to see. Hopefully his “apology” makes Hannibal understand. At least somewhat. Enough to get him to prove Will innocent soon, so he hopes. He doesn’t have to actually mean an apology for it to serve its purpose. This cell with the only company being Abel Gideon on the other side of the wall is really getting old now. Speaking of Gideon, he would have to suffice as Will’s only source of entertainment now. Besides Chilton, but that man hardly counts as he’s basically a joke on two legs. Probably a bad knock-knock joke too.

“You could’ve let him die.” Will says into the quiet of his cell.

On the other side of the wall he hears Gideon shift, “Woulda. Shoulda. Coulda.”

“He's going to kill you, you know.”

“Can't get me in here.” Comes the answer.

Will almost laughs at the man’s naivety, “Here is exactly where he'll get you, Abel. The moment I convinced the chief of staff to put you in a cell next to me, you were stamped with an expiration date. Anyone who gets too close, gets got. Miriam Lass. Abigail Hobbs. Beverly Katz. He's the Devil, remember. Smoke.” He turns his head up to the ceiling and — because he knows Chilton is listening in, he always does — adds, “I'd be very nervous if I were Dr. Chilton. He's getting close, too.”

He can almost see Chilton’s face in his head. He wouldn’t leave Hannibal the pleasure of killing that cockroach though, no he’d rather do it himself, given the chance.

“Frederick's in mortal danger and you want an apology from me?”

Oh Abel.

“I don't want an apology. I want you to know you made a mistake. There’s no way you’re gonna get out of this alive except the Chesapeake Ripper miraculously gets caught and it certainly doesn’t look that way.”

“Why did you suddenly change your mind about Dr. Lecter? Is it a trick? Or did he brainwash you?” Gideon wonders aloud.

“I know Hannibal as intimately as I know the Ripper. I see them both. If they were the same person, I would know it.”

“You tried to kill him, that seemed pretty damn sure to me.”

“I did no such thing,” Will replies slowly, coolly.

“Of course not. But you wanted him dead.”

Will shrugs, even though he knows Abel can’t see him, “I changed my mind. I’d rather have him as a friend than as a corpse.”

The moment of silence that follows betrays the fact that Gideon understands the half truths Will is telling him. That he knows who Hannibal is and that he no longer wants to kill him regardless. What Gideon can’t understand is the why.

“Have you found your taste for it yet?” Abel asks after a while.

“Taste for what? Blood?”

“Doesn't sit well on your palette, does it? Like copper on your tongue. Not your flavor.”

Will almost bursts into laughter, before he replies, words dripping with sarcasm, “I appreciate your concern, but I can handle myself.” Oh Abel, if only you knew. He would pay good money to see the look on the man’s face once he realizes just what Will really is.

After several beats of silence, Gideon suddenly asks, “Why are you doing this?”

A smile tugs at the corner of Will’s lips. He speaks silently then, too silent for the security cameras, “I’m curious to see what will happen."

~◊~

Will was brought to his therapy cage once again. He has a feeling who might come to visit him this time. Hopefully that feeling is right. He squeezes his eyes shut, wrapping his hands around the bars. He imagines antlers growing out of his skull, standing tall and proud just like the wendigo’s, like Hannibal’s. What a pair they would make, wreaking havoc upon Baltimore like the monsters they are. It would be glorious.

His eyes are still squeezed shut when he hears footsteps approaching, so familiar and dearly missed that his body instantly relaxes and his eyes open.

“Hello, Dr. Lecter.” It feels good to see the man. Hannibal looks pristine as always, walking with the practiced ease of a cat on the prowl. Will wonders how he could’ve missed that for so long. Then again, Hannibal has missed it about him too.

Hannibal comes to stand right in front of Will’s cage, looking almost bleak. On the outside, that is. But Will knows to look deeper, right into those dark brown eyes with hints of maroon, and how has he never noticed their odd color before? That’s not the point now though, the point is, beneath the mask Hannibal presents to the world, Will can see confusion, hope and a hint of wonder. Hannibal thinks his plan is working, thinks that Will is becoming. He is in for a surprise.

“I feel like I've been watching our friendship on a split screen. The friendship I perceived on one side and the truth on the other,” he says when he finally breaks the silence.

“It’s a terrible feeling, isn't it?” Will can't help but still be a little bitter about the encephalitis ordeal. It’s his brain, dammit!

“You've been lying to me, Will.”

Will scoffs, “Oh have I? I don't have a gauge for reality that works well enough to know if I've been lying or not.”

Hannibal continues, unimpressed, “You understand the reality of Beverly Katz's death. You understand your role in that.”

“What was my role?”

“Beverly died at your behest. You're as angry with yourself as you are with whoever murdered her.”

Will raises an eyebrow, “Actually, I'm not. I'm done being angry.” He shakes his head, “I told Beverly to report back and not get too close, but she wouldn’t listen. I was mad at her killer and her and myself, but I’ve had a lot of time to think in here. Being angry doesn’t get me anywhere.”

There’s a moment of silence as tense as a bow pulled taut.

It snaps when Hannibal speaks again, “You tried to kill me, Will. It’s hard not to take that personally. However, if I were Beverly's murderer, I'd applaud your effort.”

Will smiles slyly, “I'm no more guilty of what I’ve been accused of than you are of what you’ve been accused of.”

“Jack told me of your apology. He says you changed your mind about me. He doesn’t seem entirely convinced though. I have to admit, neither am I. I didn't expect you to feel self-loathing or regret or shame after what you did. You knew what you were doing and you made your own decisions. Decisions that were under your control.”

“You think I'm in control?”

“I think you're more in control now than you've ever been.”

Will gives him a smile, “Maybe you’re right. But I’m not above admitting a mistake on my part. I thought about this a lot, believe me. I stand by my new assertion. You are not the Chesapeake Ripper. You’re as innocent as I am. I will make Jack see it, don’t worry. But I’m less concerned about Jack than I am about you and I.” He pauses and looks at Hannibal with the sweetest, hopeful smile he can muster and says, “I wasn’t in my right mind when I said the things I said. Can you forgive my mistake? I would hate to see our friendship crumble beneath its weight.”

He makes eye contact and lets the veil slip for only the fraction of a second, lets Hannibal see a glimpse of what lurks beneath. It’s a tease, a promise of a future partnership. It shows effect, Hannibal’s eyes glimmer with hope and awe for the fraction of a second. He thinks Will wants to be guided by him. Wants to become.

“You say you didn’t send Matthew Brown.” A pause, “I believe you. You proclaim to have changed your mind about me. I feel that to be genuine. I don’t want to lose you as much as you don’t want to lose me. So, my answer is yes, I think I can forgive you.”

Will lets out a breath he hadn’t fully realized he’d been holding. He gives a nod, then says, “Give Alana Bloom my best.” It’s a warning and they both know it. A strange mix of, if you hurt her I will hurt you and if you let her touch you she’ll regret it. Hannibal knows a claim when he sees one and this one is thinly veiled. It’s a display of jealousy above everything else and Hannibal seems delighted about this development. Will wants Hannibal for himself. Talk about fostering codependency… Hannibal will comply though, for Will’s sake — Will knows Hannibal never particularly desired Alana anyway and their connection seems more important to him. He appears curious to see where this new road will lead him.

“Good-bye, Will.” He says and turns to leave, a smile snaking onto his lips.

“See you soon, Hannibal.”

~◊~

Turns out everything is working out for Will Graham just fine. He is given back his civilian clothes and personal belongings. He is glad to not be wearing a prison jumpsuit anymore. It feels liberating in its own right, even though he is technically still behind bars.

When Chilton approaches him, he schools his features into something neutral, “This is very sudden.” It really isn’t.

“The federal prosecutor has dropped all charges. Since you weren't convicted of killing anyone, the basis for your sentencing to this institution is null and void. The Chesapeake Ripper has set you free.” As he knew he would. It’s all gonna be just fine.

“You're my psychiatrist, you could have kept me here if you wanted.”

“I'd love nothing more, but I don’t want to be in the line of fire when the Ripper plans to claim his prize.”

Will suppresses a chuckle, “And wouldn’t that be loads of fun.”

Dr. Chilton waves his cane at one of the many CCTV cameras, signaling his employees to open the cell door. Will steps out carefully, measured.

“You may have been exonerated, but the Ripper has yet to be incriminated. Which means, there's a cannibal on the loose. I have no intention of ending up on his menu.”

“Keeping you alive is not in my power, Frederick.”

“So you’ll just wait for the Ripper to kill me?” Chilton almost sounds indignant.

“He already got Gideon, remember? You’re next. There’s nothing I can do for you.” He shrugs and stretches, finally free of all constraints, “Only chance you’ve got is to stay away as far as humanly possible.”

Upon Chilton’s command, the gate buzzes and opens. As Will steps through, Chilton calls after him, “Why didn’t the Ripper just kill you?”

Will smiles a secret smile, too small for Chilton to see, but it’s there as he says, “Because he wants to be my friend.”

 

Finally outside, Will takes a moment to appreciate the sun shining into his face, warming his skin, the blue of the sky, the song of the birds and the wind in his hair. What he doesn’t appreciate is Jack waiting for him near the base of the stairs.

“You need a ride?” He asks.

“I was going to call a cab.”

“We found Miriam Lass. Alive.”

“You catch the Ripper?"

Jack just shakes his head. Good. Will would’ve been surprised if they had.

Jack tells him of his little endeavor of getting the food at Hannibal’s dinner party tested just to get negative results, and honestly Will wouldn’t expect anything less from his dear friend. Jack also tells him about how Miriam stated definitely that Hannibal is not the Chesapeake Ripper. Things are just getting better and better.

Will lets himself be driven to the barn where Miriam was found, reading the file throughout the length of the drive. Will can think of about three dozen things he’d rather do with his newly won freedom but he doesn’t voice that. When he gets out of the car, some of the agents stare at him. He can’t help but wonder how much they would stare if they knew about the things he’d done in the past years. Their looks would certainly be drenched in more fear, rather than morbid curiosity for the falsely convicted weirdo.

He surveys the scene with as much attention as he does any other, letting Jack tell him what he knows and then Will lets the pendulum swing.

He can see the man woven into a tree — it was grown here, no doubt about it — clearly in his mind’s eye. It’s a thing of beauty, so unlike any other tableau he’s ever seen before. He makes a mental note to ask Hannibal about it some time. They could set something up together at some point.

He assumes Hannibal’s point of view fully now. I sowed the seeds and watched them grow. I cultivated a long chain of events leading to this. This, all of this, has been my design.

Will opens his eyes, glances down at the cistern in front of his feet and imagines Miriam Lass at the bottom of it, looking up at him. He unceremoniously closes the lid and tells Jack what he wants to hear. Just a little bit of truth, not enough to draw anything concrete but enough for Jack to let Will off the hook for the day. Now he’s finally free. Really free.

His hands are itching for a kill, for the feeling of blood on his fingers, running down in thick tendons, soaking through his clothes. He can’t wait to see Hannibal again.