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H. Lecter (7:34 am)
Good morning, Will. I trust that this message is finding you well?

Will read the text, quickly at first, slowing down on his second pass. It was very Hannibal, to be so formal over a fucking text message, and at this ungodly hour no less. Not that Will wasn’t already awake; he’d been knee deep in a crime scene for the last hour and a half, give or take.

Regardless. For all Hannibal knew, Will could have been sleeping, catching up on much-needed rest in the confines of his three star, FBI-funded hotel room in the middle of shit-creek nowhere, Iowa. How uncouth.

Will debated on teasing Hannibal, on asking if he had missed him so much due to their missed session the night before that he couldn’t bear one more moment without contact.

Ultimately, it only took a split second to decide that it would be absurd.

W. Graham (7:36 am)
Your message found me fine.

Will slipped the phone back into his pocket and shimmied his hands back into the pair of sticky, tacky-with-sweat latex gloves that he had been keeping safely in his back pocket. He did his best to push back a few stray ringlets from where they were sticking to his forehead and glasses using his forearm.

The timing of the gloves had been poor planning.

Will swore under his breath, cracked his neck, and dipped below the garish yellow crime scene tape, making his way back to the side of the tortured.

^^^

H. Lecter (7:41 am)
Fine is acceptable. I can think of worse alternatives.

H. Lecter (8:07 am)
I apologize for my incessant behavior. It is only to be expected that you’re busy. Be well.

Will snorted to himself at Hannibal’s messages. There were texts from others, of course. Alana, Jack, one from Abigail. Two mental health professionals, his supervisor, and his surrogate daughter. He briefly considered screenshotting the menu of his text screen with their names glaring up at him in an orderly fashion. He could print and frame it, hang it up in some gallery.

“A Day in the Life”
Artist: Will Graham and a Horde of Concerned Mother Hens
2016, Digital Print

Will wondered what the proper term was for a group of hens. A quick Google search informed him that rather than being referred to as a horde, such a group would be called a brood. The tone of the word and its implications seemed fitting and Will felt soothed, as he often did when he considered things to be in their orderly place.

Will pulled off his tie and launched it vaguely toward the hotel room desk. His shoes came next, followed by his belt and overcoat. His clothes were drenched with sweat and while the sensation wasn’t wholly bothersome when it occurred in the middle of the night (it often had a cooling effect, he had found), he felt weighed down and suffocated with the addition of the thick, soupy July heat. Pushing off responding to his Brood for a few moments more, Will stripped and opted instead for a cool shower.

The sun was setting, shadows casting strangely through the useless curtains hung over the window by the time Will stepped out of his claustrophobic hotel bathroom and back into the main space. He dried himself quickly but dressed slowly, finding solace in the stretch of time that it took him to pull on his boxers and a worn, threadbare t-shirt before picking up his phone, laptop and various chargers and settling onto his queen sized bed. He adjusted until he had a mini-office setup on his lap, back to the flimsy faux-wooden headboard, and then finally, dreadfully, started responding to his text messages that had accumulated throughout the day.

He assured Alana that he was fine. Stable, even. No hallucinations for him, no ma’am.

He gave Jack a quick update on the day in the field, ensuring to avoid any identifying information. Will grew bored and antsy halfway through the text and decided to tell Jack that he would e-mail him the rest of the information later. Or maybe even in the morning.

He was kinder to Abigail. She was adjusting as best as she could, a sister of her Mother’s having moved into the house with her for the time being. Will felt his soul alight with agony whenever he thought about her being in that house, where parts and pieces of her Father’s trophies littered the nooks, crannies, and pillow stuffings.

Perhaps he shouldn’t feel suffering for her, however. He knew that it may have been just as likely that Abigail had fought to stay in the family slaughterhouse so that she herself could find peace and calm surrounded by the bits of women that she had helped her Father lure to their ends.

In the end, Will found that his protectiveness of her would remain steadfast and unbudged even if that were true, and so he assured her that he had made it to Iowa safely, and asked her if she had given any more thought to registering for a class or two in the Fall. It seemed safe territory.

That left Hannibal.

Will chewed on the inside of his cheek as his eyes drifted over the three short, curt texts. Did he even need to respond? What would he possibly say at this point, 11 hours after the fact? Sorry, yes, I was knee deep in viscera, didn’t want to bloody my phone, you know how it goes. It wasn’t likely to go over well. Hannibal never missed a beat when Will decided to be a sassy, sarcastic challenge, but that was in person. Will wasn’t well versed enough in the art of texting to know how to come across as dry and witty.

W. Graham (7:48 pm)
I was busy. It doesn’t matter. I’ll respond when I can. No apologies necessary.

W. Graham (8:19 pm)
Can I ask you a question?

Will didn’t do much in the span of time between his texts to Hannibal other than close his eyes and try with all of his might to scrub away the imagery of the crime scene from earlier in the day. He could kill Jack in cold blood for agreeing to send him out to consult on this case.

He could, but he wouldn’t. Probably.

After waiting for a response to the second text message, Will heaved a sigh and opened his laptop in order to be a compliant FBI special agent, e-mailing Jack information he found to be pertinent regarding the case. It was a very short e-mail. Not because Will hadn’t been able to decipher the scene itself; rather, Will wasn’t ready to revisit the victim’s last moments just yet. It could wait until morning. Jack would have to be patient.

It was over an hour later when Will’s phone screen lit up, catching his attention from where it sat on his bedside table.

H. Lecter (9:36 pm)
You may.

“Pretentious,” Will whispered under his breath to the empty room.

W. Graham (9:37 pm)
What did you cook for dinner?

H. Lecter (9:40 pm)
Coq au vin with a wild greens salad and peach tarte tatin for dessert. Any particular reason for your curiosity? Are you not eating well?

W. Graham (9:42 pm)
No. And also no. You would shudder to know how I eat when you’re not the one feeding me, Hannibal.

H. Lecter (9:44 pm)
I will make it a point to feed you more frequently, then.

Will closed his eyes against the bubbling swell within his chest at the thought. It was a sensation that he recognized to a degree, one that he refused to acknowledge in any way that didn’t involve pure avoidance.

W. Graham (9:45 pm)
Unnecessary. Not that I would say no. I didn’t realize you had a dinner party planned for tonight.

H. Lecter (9:47 pm)
I didn’t entertain tonight. What gave you the impression? You’re always on the invite list, you would have been made aware. I’m pleased that you wouldn’t turn away a meal from me.

W. Graham (9:50 pm)
Oh. Just seemed like an awfully fancy spread for just yourself. I’m not used to interacting with people who treat themselves very well. I’m glad that you do. Well, I aim to please. It should be evident from my sunny disposition.

Will wondered then if Hannibal had cracked a smile, or even recognized the sentiment as humor. Hannibal had a smile like a shark; broad, thin-lipped, full of ice and yet.

And yet.

H. Lecter (9:52 pm)
My apologies. Too much time has passed. I seem to have forgotten that disposition you’ve mentioned.

Will laughed in spite of himself, surprised to have received banter back. The sound felt loud and raucous against the backdrop of silence and the humming ice machine from down the hall.

W. Graham (9:53 pm)
It’s been less than a week, Hannibal. I didn’t know you’d miss me so much. I suppose next time I’ll have to drag you around with me. Wouldn’t want you feeling lonely.

H. Lecter (9:55 pm)
Unnecessary. Not that I would say no.

Will’s cheeks heated. His pulse quickened. And so, like a jackrabbit, he sprinted away.

W. Graham (9:58 pm)
It’s getting late and I feel like I might be able to get some real, human sleep. I don’t mind you checking in, but I’m expecting to be run ragged during the day. Their team here is relentless. Rest well, Hannibal.

H. Lecter (9:59 pm)
Sleep, real human. Your mind and body are likely to crave it at this point. Until tomorrow.

Will nearly responded, finding himself torn between the pieces of himself that were buzzing with anxiety beneath his flesh, and the other pieces that were buzzing with something far more pleasurable at their conversation. He chose instead to set his phone aside, kill the lights, and close his eyes.

It was easy to slip into sleep, once he was able to ignore the looming presence of Garret Jacob Hobbs that stared at him from the darkest corner of the room.

Sometimes Will thought that being haunted was better than being alone.

Chapter Text

Will didn’t hear from Hannibal at all the following day. If asked, he wouldn’t have claimed that he was disappointed.

Well...not exactly.

Hannibal seemed a creature of habit, of routine. Will knew that he kept his client roster and schedule handwritten and meticulous; his house was pristine with everything in its place. Will had all but expected a text very similar, if not identical to the initial text from yesterday.

His expectations had not been met, that was all. He wasn’t worried. Or upset. Or even slightly hurt. And he most certainly did not miss Hannibal. That? An absurd notion.

Will made it until dinner before pulling out his phone.

W. Graham (7:26 pm)
Are you with a client?

Will dug into his diner food, which supposedly consisted of an open-faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes, carrots, and dressing. If Will ignored the beige mass of it all and focused solely on the taste, he figured he could stomach through enough of it to get a decent nutritional intake.

Maybe it’s not Hannibal I’m missing. Maybe I’ve just been well and truly spoiled by his cooking. Bastard.

Will considered taking a photo of the gelatinous mess on his plate and sending it to Hannibal out of some unearned spite but decided against it at just the moment that his phone screen lit up from where it was propped against his coffee cup.

H. Lecter (7:31 pm)
I was and am no longer. How is this evening treating you?

W. Graham (7:33 pm)
I shouldn’t complain. The job is the same everywhere. But these people don’t know me and they won’t stop looking. I can’t imagine what they must be thinking.

H. Lecter (7:37 pm)
Your team in Baltimore holds you with high regard. Why do you suppose they wouldn’t do the same?

Will paused for a moment, chewing slowly. Hannibal had a point, he knew, yet Hannibal hadn’t been around since the beginning, when Jack, Price, Zeller, and even Beverly had once stared at him strangely as well as he stood in the middle of a scene, soaking it into the pores of his mind.

Hannibal had been the only one to gaze upon him with pure fascination. Will didn’t think he’d ever be able to shake the feeling, the warmth radiating goldenly from Hannibal, his crowned Saint of Unquestioned Acceptance.

Will shook his head, grateful to shake the poetic waxing away.

W. Graham (7:40 pm)
They don’t have the time required for that, I don’t think. Also, I find it strange that you text using contractions. It seems beneath you.

H. Lecter (7:42 pm)
While lovely that you hold me to such high standards and regards, I am just a common person using common language. Should I feel judged?

Will bit back a smile. There was bait there, laid out before him, clear as day, and he was sorely tempted to bite. He swallowed down the temptation for the moment.

W. Graham (7:44 pm)
No. Those who scrape the bottoms of barrels shouldn’t judge.

Hannibal fell silent for a while then, giving Will time to finish his food, now lukewarm, and also to pay his bill. He left a tip matching the cost and hoped somehow that the $7.89 left for his waitress would give the appearance of a kind and generous man rather than one who smelled like dirt, death, and everything in between. He hadn’t missed the way her nose had wrinkled as she had guided him to his booth, though she had hidden her disgust away behind a smile stretched too thin and a voice pitched too high.

Will was a few strides away from his hotel room door when his front pocket buzzed. He left it in place while also shoving away the feeling of anxious anticipation at the thought that it was Hannibal. He chose not to examine it too closely, that feeling; he was long past the point of truly giving a shit that he had befriended his psychiatrist (which he knew was a shit idea), and that he had grown to idolize aspects of Hannibal as well (an even shittier idea). So he let the feeling wash over him, didn’t think too hard about it, and placed the phone face down on the desk in the room when he closed the door behind him.

He went through the same ritual as the night before, scrubbing even more dirt from his body this time around. By the time he was sprawled out in the hotel room bed, it was close to 9:00.

Will checked his text messages, his eyes widening a touch when he saw not one or even two, but five unread texts from Hannibal waiting to be devoured.

H. Lecter (7:59 pm)
“Calm is the bottom of my sea: who would guess that it hides droll monsters!
Unmoved is my depth: but it sparkles with swimming enigmas and laughters.” Nietzche understood that even as we may live at the bottom of the barrel, so you speak, it does not lessen our calm, tame our monsters of passion or lessen our unique effects on those around us. If you consider yourself a bottom-feeder, then I too dine with you in the depths.

H. Lecter (8:02 pm)
Upon reflection, it causes me discomfort that you continue to be so dismissive of yourself due to the expectations of others and society, rather than looking to judge yourself internally.

H. Lecter (8:17 pm)
I apologize if I’ve overstepped. This is not a session of ours. My reaction to your negative self-talk was somewhat irrational, I fear.

H. Lecter (8:54 pm)
And yet there is a part of me that doesn’t quite stand by that apology. I fear I’m modeling a bad example of owning up and taking responsibility for your feelings and actions.

H. Lecter (8:58 pm)
Such beauty must live at the bottom of the oceans and within the hearts of volcanoes, if you are the standard of what is to be scraped from their surfaces.

Will’s heart rabbited in his chest as he read and re-read Hannibal’s...well…outburst kept coming to mind, the words that Hannibal was unable to hold back staring brightly from the palm of Will’s hand where his phone was cradled as though fragile. Will didn’t know what to say, wasn’t sure how to respond, and so he reeled back and snatched tightly onto the bait from earlier in their conversation.

W. Graham (9:12 pm)
Says you, referring to yourself as a common man? I don’t have many philosophical quotes floating around in the mulch of my brain, Hannibal, but what comes to mind is that living, breathing effervescence can’t, by definition, be common.

He hit send and wanted to vomit, having pulled the word from the tip of his tongue where it had lived since initially making eye contact with Hannibal during that first meeting with Jack. What was Hannibal, if not effervescent? Outwardly stoic with fireworks and cutting wit bubbling behind his eyes; a man who came alive with a dancer’s body within a kitchen; with a smile that was rare but youthful and scintillating all the same.

Will breathed. His phone buzzed.

H. Lecter (9:15 pm)
May I call you, Will?

W. Graham (9:15pm)
Please?

Chapter Text

Will answered the phone before the ring, at the moment of the shifting in screen color indicating that Hannibal was holding true to his request. The thought flitted into his brain that he was being overeager; a cracked, withering man in view of a crisp blue waterfall. If Hannibal noticed Will’s zealousness within his breathy greeting of “you called,” he chose to ignore it.

“I did. As you requested.” His voice provided the same relief of Will’s imaginary waterfall, and Will settled down into the sheets of the hotel bed. It had only been days, hadn’t it? Perhaps just barely over a week since the last time Will had heard that voice at their last Thursday night session. And yet here he was, laying on white, thin bedding, holding his phone to his ear and sounding much in his mind what a teenager might sound like when speaking to their first crush over the phone.

When had he slipped? Will didn’t much like the feeling of falling. Typically.

“As I recall it, you asked first. Let’s not assign blame out of the gate, Doctor Lecter,” Will responded after a moment, grateful to again sound like himself. Hannibal made a small huffing sound.

“I can’t recall the last time you used my title. So formal? I was hoping for a discussion that might be a little.” A pause and the quickening of Will’s pulse. “Less so.”

Will smiled. “Are you going to ask me what I’m wearing? Because I do believe that would be a little bit too informal, given our relationships.”

Hannibal hummed. “No need to rush things, now, is there?”

Will felt an inaudible shudder pass through his body from the base of his spine to the cap of his skull and back again. He suspected Hannibal was being cordial, snarking, and he opened his mouth to reply with something equally as ridiculous when Hannibal beat him to breaking the short silence.

“You imply that we have multiple relationships. What are they?”

Will blew a breath of air upward, trying feebly to unstick his curls from his forehead as the mulled the question over.

“Well. We work together sometimes so co-workers. You’re my therapist, which I’m sure you haven’t forgotten.” Will opened his mouth to say that they were friends, the idea requiring very little to almost no thought, but he stopped himself at the last moment.

“Ah,” Hannibal murmured. “I had been expecting more.”

Will swallowed. “I wanted to say that I consider us friends?” It was a question but Will was too anxious to be self-deprecating about the rise of his voice at the end that turned it into such.

“So why didn’t you.” Where Will’s statement had been birthed as a question, Hannibal’s question was more of a statement, a way to point out that not only could Will have said what he wanted, but that he perhaps should have.

Fucking psychiatrists.

“Are we? Friends?” Will asked instead. Equal footing and all. Fuck, relationship building, socializing was so fucking difficult for him. In that moment he loathed the relative ease at which some others found themselves collecting friends, lovers, counterparts. Will swallowed it quickly; it wasn’t everybody else’s fault that he was broken. Hannibal would probably argue that it wasn’t Will’s fault, either.

Hannibal was silent, but Will knew he was still there. He could practically feel Hannibal thinking through the phone, choosing his words carefully. Will was stricken with the sudden icy fear that maybe had was wrong.

“I do not think it would be wrong to say that I consider you my dearest friend, Will.”

Oh.

“Oh,” Will exclaimed, low, his voice gravel in his ears. “I, uh. Oh.”

“There is no need to reciprocate the sentiment-”

“Hannibal,” Will interrupted, the sharp satisfaction of Hannibal not being able to scold him for being rude without the risk of Will simply choosing to hang up the phone causing him to smile, “I have never used the word ‘effervescent’ before. Not once in the last 37 years. I think it’s a safe bet to say that I return the sentiment.”

Though Will had a base understanding that there was something manipulative about Hannibal’s statement (something about it, I don’t know exactly what, but he wants something from me, something) and yet shockingly when he served it back to Hannibal, Will found that it tasted truthful in his mouth. When had the switch flipped? When had Will started aching to reach out to Hannibal rather than Alanna, or Bev, or Boyd, the animal control angel that covered Will’s corner of Wolf Trap?

It was hard to find it within himself to care at that moment, with Hannibal silent on the other side of the line apart from his breathing. It should have been awkward, sitting states apart in shared and knowing silence, but Will felt a bit of the tension in his shoulders loosening. He slipped further into the bed and readjusted the phone to be cradled by his shoulder.

“Well, that is,” Hannibal said.

“It is,” Will cracked, clearing his throat, taking mercy on Hannibal’s obvious surprise at the amount of sentiment exposed within the last 30 seconds.

“Would you like to talk about the case?” Hannibal asked suddenly, the non-sequitur taking Will aback for a split moment. “You typically have some sort of support, someone to process with after visiting a crime scene. Based on how you feel the others there view you, I don’t think it’s a great leap to assume that you haven’t been doing much processing.”

It made sense, Will figured. Friend, therapist, co-worker at times. Support.

Manipulative or not, take it where you can get it.

“This one’s all over the place. Different MO with all four victims, different victim profile but not different enough to suspect that they’re chosen solely for that purpose. I wish I would have had access to the other three scenes. It’s...a barrier, working with one piece of the puzzle.”

Hannibal muttered in understanding. “How have they connected the crimes with such different patterns to fit it to the same man?” he asked, and Will shuddered beneath the blankets.

“The victims are painted with honey before they’re left. Naked and bound, coated in honey, three of them at the base of a tree and one by a riverbank. Cause of death is different, but the signature is the same. Also,” Will thought for a moment, chewing on his lip. Hannibal wasn’t contracted on this case; this was a discussion that Will should be having with Jack.

Support.

“They’ve profiled the perp as a male, but I’m not so sure. They’re bound with silk and the honey is painted with a small paintbrush, gently enough to only leave behind two fibers from the brush on one of the vics. They’re being candied and set out in nature. They’re not being manhandled or abused prior to their deaths. No sexual assault, no guns involved in any of the killings.” Will closed his eyes for a moment, leaning beside the last victim in his mind, a 19-year-old college sophomore. Male, Hispanic, attractive, beautiful laying how he was in his final resting place. Will had been hesitant to leave the scene, enough so to have garnered him odd looks from the detectives leading the case and the ME team who was there to remove the corpse.

Will’s eyes stung, salty and wet. Fuck.

“What is holding you back from sharing your theory?” Hannibal asked, fully snapping Will back into the present, a grounding voice in his ear. The pendulum swung silently one more time and fell into a pause in the recesses of Will’s head.

“I mentioned it to one of the detectives. He looked at me like the entire FBI were a bunch of elementary school idiots,” Will bit out in reply, feeling suddenly tired, his adrenaline cooling in his veins.

“Well,” Hannibal said slowly, “let us hope that his ignorance and incompetence doesn’t lead to the loss of further life.” There was a simmering snarl beneath the words, and Will’s mouth ticked upward.

“You’re getting defensive,” Will said.

“Of you? Surely it’s a pattern that you’ve recognized by now, Will. I don’t take kindly to those who underestimate you.”

Will’s chest warmed, pulling him further into the depths of exhaustion.

“Hannibal? You say my name a lot when you talk to me, didja ever notice that?” Will mumbled around a yawn. There was a chuckle on the other end of the line.

“Perhaps I do it on purpose. I find that it builds positive rapport to ensure that who I’m speaking with knows that they have my full attention.”

Will snorted, rolling onto his side, pinning his phone between his ear and the pillow. “So that’s what we’re doing? ‘Building rapport’?”

“Well. I daresay that maybe I just like the way your name feels on my tongue,” Hannibal said as though stating a fact, as though saying something that required no vulnerability and couldn’t possibly come with judgment.

“You’ve got a refined palate,” Will said, eyes struggling to stay open. “I s’pose I should feel honored if your tongue views me favorably.”

Hannibal outright laughed then, and there it was, that bubbling over of personality. Will could all but imagine Hannibal’s lips stretched out, mouth open, teeth exposed in joy. Will could all but imagine Hannibal laying beside him and joining him in outstretched, ridiculous laughter.

“I do believe you are on the edge of sleep, dear Will. Perhaps now would be a good time to decide to speak later.”

“Tomorrow?” Will asked on autopilot, his want slipping through without filtering.

“Tomorrow. Goodnight, my boy, and remember that the ghosts are only real if you give them the power to be so.”

With that, Hannibal hung up and Will barely managed to slide his phone from under his head and back onto the nightstand. With his last ounce of energy and consciousness, Will flung up a lazy middle finger toward the corner of the room.

“You hear that? You have no power here,” Will grumbled, his hand falling to his side and his mind slipping into slumber.

Chapter Text

When Will gasped awake at 3:32 in the morning, he was drenched with sweat and the stag sat on its haunches by the side of his hotel room bed.

Will didn’t try to move; he knew that it would be useless. He and his sleep paralysis demons lived in each other’s pockets most nights, though it had been awhile since the feathered deer had paid him a visit. Will tracked the creature with his eyes as it stood and approached, going no further than to loom over him in the bed. Will expected the pressure to come, the weight of the stag pressing him to the bed until he couldn’t draw a breath. But it didn’t come; they stared at one another, the stag and Will, and Will heard Hannibal’s voice echoing in the back of his head. The stag wasn’t real; he knew it, Hannibal knew it, Alana knew it. It was powerless. A symbolic ghost.

It started with his fingertips twitching where they rest atop the covers. It always moved quickly after that, and once Will was finally able to truly open his eyes and sit upright, the stag was gone, emptiness in its place. Soaked to the bone with sweat and face irritated by the paths of salt that ran to his throat, Will debated on showering, on calling it a night and leaving the hotel room prepared and ready for another day of trudging through atrocities.

It was what he would have done on a typical night at home, or at the hospital keeping vigil over Abigail, or during the occasions when he curled up in one of the chairs of his lecture hall, too dissuaded by the thought of making the trek home to even make the attempt. He would always pay Boyd a little extra than they agreed on after Will would call to ensure that the dogs got fed. It was rare, but it happened.

Tonight, however, was different. Will’s instinct to cleanse and run thrummed beneath a different layer, something that he would have liked to imagine as new but couldn’t, given the fact that he had once shown up at Hannibal’s door in a state of slumber. Perhaps he had been fighting this instinct all along.

Time be damned, Will picked up his cell phone and tapped twice on Hannibal’s name. It would be nearly 5:00 am there, and Hannibal may find the intrusion rude if not disconcerting, but Will couldn’t reach far enough within himself to give a single fuck.

“What’s happened?” Though he sounded sleep heavy and dazed, Hannibal’s voice cut sharply through the line, not a moment of silence in between the ringing and his words. “Are you alright?”

Will opened his mouth to say that sure, he was fine. As fine as he ever was. It would be an easy lie, one that he was well acquainted with. Instead, he chose to present the truth.

“Sleep paralysis. Vivid, more so than usual.”

Silence for a beat on Hannibal’s end. And then, “Do you need a psychiatric consultation or a friend?”

“I needed to know that I’m back in reality,” Will answered, “and I suppose I figured that you’re the only one who could do that for me.” The honesty burned like acid in his throat.

“Dear boy,” Hannibal said, his pitch lower now that Will hadn’t announced an emergency or his imminent demise, “I’ll do whatever you require to help you feel grounded.”

Humiliated rather than angry, Will’s response was biting. “Do you mean to infantilize me so much with that? ‘Dear Boy.’ I don’t like being spoken to so condescendingly.”

“No, it’s not my intention. I suppose I should have better assessed or outright asked your boundaries before utilizing any term of endearment. I simply mean that you are something held dear, Will. Nothing more, nothing less. I would refer to you as dear girl should that be your wish or identity, as I understand it isn’t common to refer to someone as dear man, or dear woman?” Hannibal’s tone was steady, still thick with burgeoning awakening, but held no indication of underlying defensiveness.

Will deflated and settled back down, the dampness of the bed sheets and his clothing seeping into his skin like a chill. “No. You’re right, that would be...odd. But maybe you should be more perceptive or polite. Not everybody knows how to process endearments. What would you do if I started referring to you as Sugar Plum throughout casual conversation?”

Hannibal groaned something playfully painful, and the living nightmare in Will’s mind started to fade into the distance.

“That would be horrendous,” Hannibal acquiesced, causing Will to smile. “I would much prefer something more tailored to who I am as an individual. Who I am to you, perhaps.”

“Do you mean to come across as so flirtatious?”

“Is that how it appears? I mean to come across as honest. You seem to appreciate honesty and receive it far too rarely.”

Will contemplated Hannibal’s answer, rolling it around in his head. “Well, I wouldn’t call you sweetheart. You’re kind but also harsh around the edges. Also, not my sweetheart.” Will’s heart tripped up in his chest as he caught himself and tried to save himself at the end. He didn’t know why; the precipice was laid out before them, though not explicitly.

Then again, nothing about Hannibal was explicit.

“Ah, I see you’re reciprocating honesty in kind.” Hannibal was quiet but Will could hear shifting, knew that Hannibal was readjusting himself in his own bed, hundreds of miles away, and would likely need to start his day soon. “Though I wonder if you understand the disappointment hearing it spelled out so clearly.”

Will’s mouth ran dry. “Hearing what spelled out so clearly?”

“That we are not entwined in a way that would allow you to call me sweetheart.” Hannibal didn’t pause, obviously oblivious to the way that his words were slicing into the meat of Will’s being, clean and sharp. “The word is so saccharine, yet sounds like so much more coming from you.”

Will closed his eyes, willing away anything imaginary or based in reality that may destroy that moment for him, the moment he wiggled his toe over the open precipice.

“Hannibal,” Will whispered into his phone. “Sweetheart.”

The gasp that emitted from Hannibal was so soft and sweet that it caused Will to ache, and for a moment Hobbs was gone, the stag was nowhere to be found, and candy-coated corpses seeped away into the recesses of Will’s mind as he focused solely on the growing hunger in his body for Hannibal to simply be near.

“Mano mielasis,” Hannibal all but groaned. “William, my darling.”

Where Hannibal had gasped, Will in turn emitted a whimper, heat flushing through his body from the core of his belly outward, filling him. Never had a word, phrase, a voice managed to wind him so tightly, and if Hannibal had been there as Will wished there was no doubt in his mind that Will would fight for eye contact, would push his palms against the planes of Hannibal’s flesh until he sank inside.

He had tried, he really had, to fight against the living desire that thrashed within him whenever he thought of Hannibal’s body, his face, his mind, his darkness.

Will opened his mouth to utter another title, the title that he had knighted Hannibal with inside his mind months ago, the name that he kept to himself and from everyone in their lives because it was his to keep, a gift for Will that he was not intending to throw to the wayside.

Before Will could let the name slip from his lips, a shrill ringing snapped the tension between the lines, and some of Will’s arousal waned in favor of turning to amusement when Hannibal bit out a low string of curse words.

“How vulgar of you,” Will said dryly, molten heat still alive in his voice.

“My alarm clock,” Hannibal said with such disdain that Will decided precisely in that moment that he was in love with Hannibal Lecter.

“I have to...clients,” Hannibal explained, an incomplete sentence, and Will swallowed his disappointment and bit his lower lip.

“Will you be thinking of me as you’re sitting across from them?” Will asked.

“I am always thinking of you.” Hannibal’s reply was succinct and so forward that Will’s body clenched.

“Well then,” Will cleared his throat. “Think of me today as you’re driving to work. Think about what I’ll be doing to ease my tension, as my psychiatrist is unavailable to assist and I will be unable to resist.” Will palmed himself through his boxers, knowing that Hannibal couldn’t see or hear but feeling salacious just the same.

Hannibal cursed again. “Fuck. You’ll be my undoing.”

Will smiled, arched his back. “I’d be honored, sweetheart.”

After Hannibal hung up the phone after a pained and terse goodbye, after Will stroked himself to completion spurred on by thoughts of sweet nothings in Hannibal’s voice, the sun was starting to peak in through the hotel room curtains. Will realized that he had made the right call, both literally and figuratively, because if this was what his reality was like he was thrilled to ground himself to it as firmly as possible.

Chapter Text

Days blurred into one week and edged into week two without Will’s consent and hardly with his notice. Their killer was escalating, approaching a frenzy with the pacing of bodies left only days apart, the latest laid out in the middle of a burbling brook less than 24 hours following the discovery of the last. They honey was still warm and sticky; the perp was getting sloppy and Will was finding her tactlessness and disrespect annoying.

He had a headache and he missed his dogs. Fucking FBI consulting bullshit.

“If they’re not listening to me,” Will spat into the phone, pinching the bridge of his nose as he spoke to Jack as though he lacked all comprehension, “then you need to tell me why I’m still here, because it’s getting...trying.”

“Someone is listening,” was Jack’s response. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be getting voicemails regarding your lack of assistance on this case.”

Will laughed and it was acrid. “Well, when I defect and leave against your orders don’t you dare rouse me from my bed or my dogs when they call to tell you that they’ve found their serial and she’s a woman. I don’t need their confirmation. I’m here as an expert, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“Will, cut the bullshit. I’m on your side, I trust your skill and your assessment and that’s exactly why I want you to stay. These morons need you.” Jack was distracted. It was the only explanation as to why he wasn’t listening.

“Whatever you say, Jack. If I get one more urge to strangle any of them I’m leaving. I think that would lead to more than a few annoyed voicemails.” Will hung up despite hearing Jack’s voice, tinny and far away, coming from his phone speaker. He walked back into the conference room at the station from where he had been hiding out in the empty hallway.

He wanted the day to be over. He wanted to be back in the hotel (if he couldn’t be back in Wolf Trap) (or Baltimore, for that matter) with Hannibal in his ear.

W. Graham (3:12 pm)
If I were to kill Jack could you sign off on my insanity defense?

H. Lecter (3:17 pm)
Is he still refusing to approve your return back?

W. Graham (3:19 pm)
That’s not a no, then?

H. Lecter (3:23 pm)
I suppose it’s not. Though it’s not typically my style to encourage others to murder their bosses. Too complicated.

Will stifled a laugh, not wanting to draw the attention of the officers shuffling around him in the office. Laughing while surrounded by grotesque crime scene photos would likely lessen their approval of him even further and while Will didn’t much care, he also didn’t want to deal with an increase in awkward tension, odd looks, or the volume of their scoffing during his profile updates.

W. Graham (3:25 pm)
Well thank you for trying to save me from myself then, I suppose. I don’t much care for complicated.

H. Lecter (3:27 pm)
I would love to challenge you on that assertion, but my client has arrived and so I must save it for a rainy day.

W. Graham (3:28 pm)
When do your back-to-backs end today?

H. Lecter (3:30 pm)
8:00. Please do give me a call any time after then. I’ll be looking forward to it, my darling.

Will felt his face flush with heat as he slipped his phone back into his front pocket. The proverbial floodgates had burst open following their early morning, post-sleep paralysis fever dream of a conversation and Will couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so dangerously and deliciously alive. Little had changed by way of their daily texts and nightly phone conversations, other than the fact they themselves had blossomed into a stable and firm existence.

They discussed work and Will’s fragile mental health. Will vented about ghosts in the corners of the room and his periphery. Hannibal vented politely about his days, his clients, and his perceived philosophical wrongs in the world. They talked about food, sickly sweet decaying bodies and Tattle Crime. They expressed their deep-rooted worries about Abigail in the wee hours of the morning, whispering into each other’s ears.

Will made jokes comparing them to high school sweethearts with free phone minutes after 9:00 pm. Hannibal laughed politely but asked if it counted as joking if it felt honest.

Will called Hannibal sweetheart. It had stopped feeling playful after the second conversation, which had ended in frenzied breathing, pained moans stretching between them and breathy laughing as they came down together from their mutually self-achieved orgasms.

The sound of Hannibal Lecter’s hitching breath as he came with Will’s name on his lips amongst exotic, foreign words was an instant addiction for Will, who played the sound in his mind on a constant loop regardless of which role he was playing in the real world of Iowa.

One thing that Will and Hannibal hadn’t discussed was what would happen when Will finally did return home from his consulting stint. Would the phone calls stop? Would they be replaced with dinners in Hannibal’s lavish dining room? Would Will be allowed to touch and importantly, most importantly, would Will want to touch Hannibal, be touched by Hannibal?

And what did it mean if he did, with the knowledge that he had?

*

“We’re going to get her soon,” Will stated by way of greeting when Hannibal answered his phone call late that same evening. “She slipped up. Skin cells on the backsides of the last victim’s teeth. He must have bitten her.”

“Good for him,” Hannibal said, the telltale sounds of him arriving home unraveling in the background. “It’s admirable for him to have fought back. I’m assuming the initial biological profile indicates a woman?”

“Of course it did,” Will said, sitting on the edge of the bed and removing his shoes. “And not one of those bastards had the balls to even look at me after the tech gave the results. I took their active avoidance to meet my eye as a victory.”

“Hmm. Imagine you, seeking out eye contact,” Hannibal teased. Will grinned.

“Vindictiveness trumps social awkwardness. I guess I learned that about myself just now.”

The pop of a cork, the pouring of wine. “I shall toast to your insight,” Hannibal said and Will listened to him take a sip, wanting so fucking severely to be in Hannibal’s space to chase the taste of the spirit within Hannibal’s mouth.

“They’re running the DNA profile through CODIS right now. It’ll likely take at least a few hours. I’m hoping for a hit but even if we don’t get that lucky, at least now they can narrow their suspect pool and follow the damn profile I’ve been cramming down their throats for over a week now. Regardless, I should be back soon.”

The words hung between them, and Will bit his bottom lip to avoid filling the silence. There were questions that he wanted to ask, declarations he wanted to make, requests filling up the empty space in his throat. It was Hannibal who broke first, and when Will released his lower lip he tasted a tinge of blood.

“You must be looking forward to returning to Wolf Trap.” Hannibal’s words were carefully chosen.

Will’s were less so. Never before had he been such a base creature, pouncing with instinct rather than forethought.

“I’m looking forward to returning to you.”

The air crackled with it, the jolt that the sentiment created and Will was astounded that he was becoming able to read the emotion in Hannibal’s breathing patterns from hundreds of miles away.

“I’m pleased to hear that, my dear,” Hannibal responded, firm and soft.

“Only pleased? How underwhelming.”

“The death of me, Will. I’ve said it before. Would you rather I drop all pretense? I fear I may frighten you.”

Will almost did it then, in that moment, but he waited. He needed to wait, needed to know that Hannibal was living at the bottom of the ocean with him before he created the riptide that he wanted so badly to create.

“Nothing about you could frighten me away at this point. My social competency thrives on dropped pretenses.” Will waited then, waited out Hannibal’s contemplative silence.

“You staking claims about returning not to home, but to me,” Hannibal began, and Will’s pulse raced, “creates not only joy and pleasure, but also an uncontrollable blanket of possessiveness. If you are to return to me in the manner that I wish, it would be as mine. My flesh, my blood, my beautiful mind in your beautiful skull. That it what would please me most of all.”

When Will inhaled and opened his eyes it was to a new world, one in which he could have everything he wanted. The waters were open and he was prepared to plunge. Needed to, at this point.

“Do you wish to consume me, Hannibal?” Will asked, a toe in the water, an entendre if he had ever purposely spouted one.

“In a wholly singular way,” was Hannibal’s immediate answer. “I at times crave for you to take my body into yours, however. To consume each other.”

Heat, blazing as though the plasma of the sun flowed through Will’s body. The sexual provocativeness of Hannibal’s statement threatened to overthrow Will’s intended course of action, but he stifled the urge.

“Sweetheart,” Will breathed, laying down on the mattress. “Hannibal. My sweetheart.” Hannibal hummed pleasantly. “My desired. My love.” A keening sound from Hannibal’s throat. Will squeezed his eyes closed, licked his lips, and plunged into the ice cold waters with both feet.

”My Ripper.”

The world went still and Will knew that Hannibal had stopped breathing. The silence was suffocating. Will empathized with every fish he had pulled from the waters over his lifetime; the feeling of suffocating in open air burned.

Will wasn’t surprised when the phone line went dead. He wasn’t even disappointed, not really. After all, he knew that when he had first realized that Hannibal was the Chesapeake Ripper, it had been a lot for him to process.

Hannibal could be afforded some time, Will thought.

*

Will suspected an early morning phone call to rouse him from sleep, had been hoping for one as a result of a positive CODIS hit. It took his brain a few moments to boot back on, moments filled with confusion as he tried to answer his phone...which wasn’t ringing.

No, his phone hadn’t woken him. It was the incessant knocking at his door.

Someone was knocking on his door at 3:22 in the morning. Okay. He was on board then, throwing on a t-shirt over his boxers before cracking the door open as far as the lock chain would allow.

The moment Will peeked through the crack, the door flung the rest of the way open. Will felt a moment of vindication that his life-long suspicion of the flimsiness of chain locks on doors had just been proven valid, the chain snapping from the force of the door being thrown open from the outside. The moment had pulled Will out of reality for a split second, just long enough for him to not understand that Hannibal was standing in his hotel room until the door was already closed behind his visitor, closing them both within the four walls and outdated window.

Hannibal looked as frenzied as Will had ever seen him, and it was a sight to behold. His hair was tousled as though he had run from Baltimore, the stale smell of an airplane cabin on his clothes confirming that he hadn’t. He was in Will’s space in a matter of seconds, looming over him even though he was barely the taller of the two.

His eyes were wild and beautiful, his bottom lip shining in Will’s vision. How had he forgotten how absolutely stunning this man was?

“Are you going to kill me?” Will asked calmly, raising his eyes to meet Hannibal’s. Eye contact with Hannibal was...different, now.

“I would prefer to not have to do that,” Hannibal said lowly, his accent thicker than usual and oh, he’s panicked. “Are you going to crack me open and tie me into a bow, gift-wrapped for Uncle Jack?”

Will smiled and it felt soft on his face. He reached up, smoothing Hannibal’s hair. Hannibal didn’t respond, didn’t move a millimeter.

“You were the man on the phone,” Will whispered. “The one who called Hobbs.”

Hannibal did move then, leaning back ever so slightly. “You’ve suspected for so long?”

“There was nothing to suspect. You were singing to me with them, your tableaus. I heard you, I’ve been hearing you. You’ve been...guiding me.”

Hannibal’s eyes glittered, a hunger building. “And you’ve been following?”

“I’m here, aren’t I? And you’re here, with me.” Will didn’t blink. He held his ground, his challenge, his loyalty.

“Tell me again, sweet love of mine. Tell me again who I am,” Hannibal demanded, his pleading sweet. Will’s hand trailed down from Hannibal’s hand, and he brushed Hannibal’s bottom lip with the pad of his thumb.

“You’re my Ripper,” Will repeated, and when Hannibal surged forward to claim Will’s mouth with his own, Will did indeed feel consumed.