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Best of Cruel Intentions

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“Going my way?”

Hannibal’s good humor is of a keener, brighter sort than Will remembers from the time before, and this probably isn’t even meant to cut him, yet it does, because he knows why .  He knows what it is to blink in sunlight you weren’t sure you’d ever be permitted to even see again, let alone move about in unrestricted.  

The car smells of blood, but fortunately there’s no reek of voided bowels (to Will’s nose, anyway; for Hannibal it might be a different story) - the two dead cops hadn’t sat there long.  “You seem to have a venue in mind,” he says after a few moments, hands seeking out the car’s GPS tracker to disable it.

A faint smirk tilts Hannibal’s lips as he notes what Will is doing.  “I have a house, about two hours from here, right on the coast.”

Have , present tense.  Owned under a different identity, then.

“That’s convenient.”

“Yes.  Most things about my former life were arranged to be very convenient.”  

Will lets out a huff of air through his nose.  It’s not quite a laugh, but he finds that he’s amused when he remembers how carefully laid-out Hannibal’s life had once been.  “Only most things?”

“One could argue that many of the art forms I enjoy are inherently inconvenient.  They are certainly laborious and time-consuming, yet I find them entirely rewarding.”  

“Nothing convenient about threading tree roots through someone’s veins and arranging flowers in his chest cavity, that’s for sure,” Will observes dryly.  He isn’t certain why, of all Ripper scenes, that one comes to mind now - he hadn’t even seen those pictures except in context of the building where Jack had found Miriam Lass.

“No.  But it was very beautiful, Will.”  Hannibal glances over to him, dark eyes subtly wistful.  “I wish that you could have seen that one in person, where it was meant to be seen.”  

Yes, it had been beautiful, and colorful in a way that most murder scenes were not.  Will sighs quietly. “So do I.” But he had been in the BSHCI then, of course.  Where Hannibal had put him.

And released him from.

And where Will had - no, where Hannibal had put himself .  

For Will.

“Was it good to see me?”  

“Good?  No.” He is presently furious at how not-good it is to see Hannibal like this.  

At how much a part of him had wanted, a moment ago, to press his hand not to the cool, flat expanse of the acrylic barrier, but to one of its holes.

Will grinds his teeth and mentally casts about for some association other than the all-too-fresh memories of Hannibal in a cage.   (Not pacing, never something so undignified as that, but the alacrity with which Hannibal mirrors Will’s own movements about the other side of the room speaks of that coiled, restless, frustrated energy all the same.)   Hannibal’s wistfulness keys to the sluggish realization that the only time Hannibal had been present for Will’s dissection of one of his own tableaux was in Palermo.  

“What was it like, watching me in the chapel?” he asks, throat tight.  This memory isn’t any safer, really, but it is, at least, an older one.  Will knows where all its edges are.

The answer, when it comes, is slow and thoughtful.  “Fascinating, as watching you has always been. Sad, in ways both expected and unexpected.”  A pause, and Hannibal swallows. “And hopeful.”

“You don’t know whose side I’m on.”  Will’s smile bares teeth, showing both self-deprecation and open threat.

Pazzi steps close, his eyes narrowing.  “What are you going to do when you find him, your Il Mostro?”

“I’m… “  Will has to pause for a breath, viciously, tremulously amused.  “I’m... curious about that, myself.”

Will remembers that hope well.

“Tell me... something I don’t already know about that scene, that death,” he makes himself ask.  Hannibal will have some humorous anecdote about that, surely. Something to make this memory less about the hope that didn’t materialize.

“Tell me what you were seeing when you suddenly stumbled back against the floor, and I will.”  

Will is quiet, rolling that part of the memory around in his mind.  The surreal horror of it is a very different sort of unpleasant - one much easier to bear.  But it still holds a larger truth that he has never yet shared with Hannibal.

After perhaps three minutes of expectant - yet somehow still comfortable - silence, Will decides that he will answer.    

“A… skeletal… stag-thing, that the corpse unfolded itself into, stalking, shambling toward me.  Still headless, but it had antlers anyway.” He presses his lips together, then adds in an almost inaudible mutter, “There’s always got to be antlers.”  

Hannibal nods, courteously keeping his eyes on the road through the explanation.  “Your mind holds onto symbols more tenaciously, and more creatively than most,” he notes, not sounding at all surprised.  

“I suppose that’s true.”  

There is a car behind them, now - an old-looking green Civic, so it shouldn’t really register as a likely threat, but Will still lets out a breath of relief when Hannibal makes a turnoff and the Civic keeps going straight.  

“Do you know, I briefly envied Garret Jacob Hobbs his title?” Hannibal asks, tone suddenly whimsical, and Will wonders if the awareness of the other car had bothered him, too.  

“Hnn.”  Will actually finds himself smiling, if only for a moment.  “You would’ve liked to be called a shrike?”

“I find it an admirable bird.  Fierce, yet unassuming in that fierceness.  You would never guess its gruesome behavior patterns just from looking at it.”  

Will’s fairly sure Hannibal Lecter has not looked “unassuming” at any point in his life after he was out of diapers, but he supposes the flying-under-the-radar aspect does make sense.  “Shrike’s a bit limiting for you, though, isn’t it, Doctor Lecter?” Fierce and gruesome shrikes may be, but they are not especially creative in their butchery.

“Which is why the envy was brief,” Hannibal agrees easily.  “The sobriquets I have earned are suitable enough, if uninspired.”

“The Great Red Dragon didn’t earn his name, he just demanded it,” Will muses, wondering idly what name Hannibal might have demanded for himself, had he cared to.  It would have been one he had earned, though; Will knows that.

“The notion offends you.”  There’s a smirk in Hannibal’s voice if not quite on his face, and Will feels a ripple of irritation.  

“He ate the original painting; it should offend you,” he counters testily.    

“I was mildly concerned about that as a possibility,” Hannibal sighs, nodding a little, as if to himself.  “Consuming the original image to make it a part of himself. Overpowering and replacing it. There’s poetry to that, but it is a shame for the fine arts community.”  

Hannibal’s open appreciation for Dolarhyde nettled Will from the very beginning, and it does not fail to do so now.  “You’re his ‘woman clothed in sun,’ you know; how does that make you feel?”

“One of them, at least.”  He grins, smug and knowing and insufferable.  “I feel quite radiant.”

Will rolls his eyes and turns toward the passenger side window to watch the countryside instead of Hannibal.  The Chesapeake Bay area is a patchwork of major metropolitan zones, bustling suburbs, and sometimes shockingly old and rundown, rural farmland.  They are currently deep in one of the areas of the latter, and it soothes Will, if only a little. He associates bucolic isolation with peace, but a particular flavor of run-down with his childhood.  Fortunately, more of the houses he sees are more his sort of well cared-for shabby than not.

“The man I folded into a heart for you in Palermo reminded me of you, and in all the wrong ways.  It was intolerable,” Hannibal says after a few minutes of this, drawing Will’s eyes back to him.

So much for making this memory less about their shattered hopes.  “That’s why you killed him?” he asks, fighting to keep his voice even.

“One of the reasons.  He also correctly concluded that I had killed Doctor Fell, who was a former colleague of his, and taken his place.”  

“That was one of the wrong ways he reminded you of me?”  This question is dry; Will is amused again despite himself.  

“The inference was the only reasonable one to make, given that he had first encountered me under a different alias - at a party in the real Doctor Fell’s honor, no less - and he later happened upon me by chance in Florence, where I was in fact using the identity of Doctor Fell.”  

So the man had lucked into a realization of the sort Will had come to via deep insight.  And then had probably further made himself objectionable in some fashion. Will is starting to see the picture.

“Did he intend to turn you in, or to blackmail you?”

“The second, and quite congenially so, really.  I considered the potential entertainment that might have been found in playing along, but ultimately decided he could be put to better use.  Did you like your valentine, Will?”

Of course Hannibal had meant it exactly that way.

A part of him certainly had liked it, even then.  A traitorous, vicious part of him does all the more, now, knowing this information about the source of Hannibal’s raw material.  It shouldn’t thrill him that Hannibal had rejected and disposed of this congenial substitute when he had presented himself, but it does.  Oh, it does.

He doesn’t answer aloud, but Hannibal is watching him sidelong, and seems pleased with what he sees in his face.  

“How did the Dragon contact you?” Hannibal asks instead, a few minutes later.  

“He showed up in my motel room, right after the last time I visited you.”  The two encounters had been in such close proximity that the first coherent thought in Will’s mind as he was being ambushed had been, ding dong, the Dragon’s not so dead.  

“He has excellent dramatic timing,” Hannibal notes, and Will feels that pulse of irritation again at Hannibal’s apparent approval, but he ruthlessly refocuses on his own dynamic with Hannibal.  

“That he does.  You knew this was coming.”  

Hannibal raises his eyebrows at him in bland amusement.  “You seemed aware of that when we discussed the plan.”

“I was, mostly.”  He had been persuasive, but not really.  They’d both known Hannibal would say yes.  Will’s entreaty had been theatre, almost an inside joke between them.  “Did you realize it then, or when Alana first presented it?”

“I suspected, when Alana spoke with me and said the plan had originated with you.  Our conversation confirmed it. What was he like?”

Will rattles off the list of traits almost comfortably, as if they are back in the early days, discussing the latest case in Hannibal’s office.  “His name is Francis Dolarhyde. We were right about the disfigurement-related anxiety - iffy cleft palate repair. Speech difficulties, but you’d already know that.”  He does let a hint of acid enter that observation. “Big, muscular. Intense. Military background, which tracks with the precision of most of his kills. Works - or worked, I guess - in film processing.  All indications are you were right about him choosing his victims from their social media.”

There’s a malicious smile playing about Hannibal’s lips.  “How fortunate for some other unsuspecting family that he was more recently directed toward one resourceful enough to survive his visit.”  

The sick fury wells up so suddenly, Will has to force himself to stay still.  

Don’t ,” he spits, with every ounce of venom in him.  

“I’m not trying to suggest my actions were in any way altruistic, merely commenting on the ultimate effect.”

You don’t want to be poking me with the reasons I have to hate you, right now, he thinks, but doesn’t say, because that will only bring more baiting, and he had almost….

He has to swallow back a stab of pain when he realizes he has very nearly been enjoying this conversation, or most of it.  It hadn’t been good to see Hannibal in the BSHCI, no, but talking with him again, like this, one dangerous creature to another in a car on a lonely road?  

Will aches with how much he has missed this, and feels even more sickened by what that says about him.  

“You can go home again, if there’s any point.  Is there any point?”

There was a point, but he can feel it dwindling on the horizon with every mile he willingly rides toward their reckoning.  For tonight will be one, one way or another.

It is very likely that this is the last chance he will have to have any of his questions answered.  

When he can form words around the tight feeling in his throat and chest, he tries for a change of subject.  “Bedelia told me you send her a greeting card and a recipe on her birthday and holidays. Recipes for organ meat, I’m assuming?”

“Of course.”

“You haven’t taunted me like that; why?”  He is only prodding at the very edges of the Bedelia-related things he wants to know, but it’s something.  

“I endeavor to be honest about my intentions as much as possible, and I don’t intend to eat you in such a manner, Will.”

“You did.”   In what manner do you intend to eat me, Hannibal?   he wonders, but doesn’t ask.

“For a short time,” Hannibal allows, more guardedly.  It’s faintly satisfying to Will to see the evidence of how jagged the edges of the memory of their last day in Italy must be for him, too.  

“... was it her suggestion?”  Somehow, he can see that being the case, vividly.  In her own words, Hannibal had never been not her patient.  

“Have you been talking with Bedelia a great deal?”  The fact that Hannibal elects to evade with another question makes Will even more certain of her hand in that particular idea.  

She probably didn’t contribute to the planning of the specifics, however.

“I needed someone I could be honest with, about you.”  

The idea seems to amuse Hannibal.  “How honest?”

“Honest enough.”

“And how honest was she with you, I wonder?”

That brings out a snort from Will.  He had found Bedelia’s smug adherence to her narrative of identity loss under Hannibal’s influence absolutely insufferable.  “Oh, more than she intended to be. She was... inspired to recklessness, knowing that it would never quite overtake mine, I imagine.”

“Oh?”

“Last time we spoke, I told her about the plan - the officially-sanctioned version, only - and she knew.”  Will finds himself smirking at the memory of the vicious pleasure he’d felt at her loss of composure. “Called me a few names.  But she didn’t call up Jack Crawford and tell him I was planning on the escape being a real one.”

“Bedelia has never quite been able to reconcile her preference to spectate with her instinct to participate.”

“...She doesn’t have the stomach for participation,” Will spits. “What did she eat, all that time she was with you?”  

Hannibal chuckles, low and warm, and Will knows he’s hit a nail on the head.  “A great many oysters.”

And there lies the core of Will’s contempt for Bedelia du Maurier: She reminds him of the readerships of the likes of Freddie Lounds and Frederick Chilton - titillated by the idea of what Hannibal is, but for all her talk of having lived with him “behind the veil,” she hadn’t been, not fully.  

Not the way Will has.  

Hannibal’s next question says his mind is on a similar wavelength.  “Who were we really eating, the night we ate Freddie Lounds in effigy?  Was it Randall Tier?”

“Yes.  I saved… parts.  Freddie went snooping and found them in my shed, actually.”

“Did you want to kill her, then, if only a little?”  Hannibal’s intermittent smirk has returned, with a bitter edge to it that Will both resents and wants to soothe.  

“I wanted to kill her then, if only a lot,” he offers, because it’s true and that, at least, is something he can give Hannibal.  

“Why didn’t you?”

“You know why.”   I couldn’t accept what it would mean.

It’s as if Hannibal hears his unvoiced thought, somehow.  “Yet you accepted my existence enough to try to warn me, the night we were meant to have the dinner with Jack,” he points out, almost implacably patient in a way that Will knows means he’s having to actively control his tone.    

“I always wondered if that had mattered at all.”  

“I had smelled Ms. Lounds on you the night before.  It didn’t matter then. After….” Hannibal swallows hard, and Will suddenly, vividly understands that he has played out these events in his mind in as many permutations as Will has.  “After, I realized that it was the product of your indecision. You had set out to trap me, but found you did not want to.”

“No, I didn’t,” Will sighs.  He had wanted so desperately to go that previous night, that eve of dissolution, when they had eaten the lamb and Hannibal had offered him that out.  But he hadn’t been able to take it, because how could it be sustainable? He wasn’t a murderer, technically. Not yet. And Hannibal had killed Abigail .  

(Except he hadn’t.  Not yet.)

“Hannibal,” he all but whispers.  Can he ask this? He has to ask this.  “Why did you let me keep believing you’d killed her?”  They have been talking about Freddie Lounds, but his antecedent here will not be misunderstood.  

“For a number of reasons.”  There is a lingering, weighty pause.  “All of which seemed wiser at the time than they were.”  

That response takes Will by surprise.  Not that there were multiple reasons, and not that Hannibal hasn’t specified - won’t specify unless Will pushes for it.  But the tacit admission of that rarefied emotion of regret, and not couched in the mysticism of shattered teacups.

A shattered teacup miraculously drawing itself back together is just that - a miracle, impersonal and without the guiding hand of decisions, choices.  

That Hannibal acknowledges imperfect choices rather than a moment’s clumsiness… it hurts, deep and aching (and bright and sharp and tearing like a knife in the guts), but it’s a cleaner pain than Will has been expecting.  

“When did you decide to kill her?” he murmurs.  It is another thing that has tormented him with wondering.  

Hannibal looks over and waits for him to meet his eyes before he answers, and his gaze is a pair of smoldering pits, piercing up through an inferno.  “When I couldn’t bring myself to kill you.”

They finish the drive up the winding road, to a house atop a steep bluff by the sea, in silence.