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The pavilion where his great-aunt had wed was grown over with wildflowers and climbing vines, but it was the perfect way to meet in secret, as the servants and his father, too busy with maintaining the household, would have no reason to suspect he was here.

Far enough from the painstakingly groomed main property, it is also conveniently located to mask Will’s highly vocal moans of pleasure as he presents himself over a dusty bench littered with withering leaves. His knees are smarting, and the angle is awkward, but the hand Hannibal has wrapped around his neck and the one braced at his hip is enough to keep him from toppling over. Though at the rate they’re going, he thinks to himself, half-hysterical, it is unlikely that falling would distract either of them for long.

“Stop, you know you can’t—Not unless you’re willing to add laundering my clothes to your already substantial list of duties,” Will hisses, though the thought is more of a temptation than he would ever admit to aloud. He swears to himself that his ass tips up for a better angle to fuck, not because he’s silently begging for Hannibal’s spend.

Oh, bugger it, it’s not as if I don’t know how to wash my own bloody clothes.

He’d survived ten years as a poor fisherman’s son before a man from the Stafford Bank had knocked on his father’s door and shown him a ledger and living will declaring him next in line to a distant relative’s earldom.

“I already run most every crucial aspect of your life,” Hannibal scolds, though the impact is lessened by their compromised position. He curses in another language Will does not know, both their thighs shaking as he empties his seed into Will’s grasping body, Will pretending to pout as Hannibal exhaustedly turns him onto his front, hands scrambling for purchase on Will’s dripping member.

“And yet I never hear you complain,” Will says, rolling his eyes heavenward in mockery, then in pleasure, vision crossing as evidence of it splatters all over the bench. Aimed so that the mess doesn’t cover either of them, Will notices, through the haze of temporary blindness that seems to accompany most of his orgasms at Hannibal’s hand.

“You think of everything,” he pants, feeling woozy, with an alarming urge to cuddle close rising in his chest before he tamps it down. Hannibal’s far too practical to want for something like that when there’s only a sliver of time remaining before dark and someone makes note of them both being absent from the dinner table.

Still, he lets himself linger over the moment, running the backs of his knuckles against Hannibal’s still semi-pristine shirt, fingertips barely grazing the stubble on Hannibal’s jaw. He would probably never see him properly in the mornings, in the servant’s quarters before he had a chance to shave, but the universe’s great compromise was that he would be able to see him in the evenings, when the dark shadow of hair began to show.

He could count a handful of white hairs in the lock currently obscuring Hannibal’s left eye, and he wondered, with a thrill bordering on inappropriate (yes, Graham, as if it were completely appropriate to let your servant roger you till you saw stars) whether his lover’s hair would start to grey soon, even young as he was.

“Come now. Supper,” Hannibal reminds him, in a tone of voice so tender it nearly stops Will’s heart.

Mischa.

The name is on the tip of Will’s tongue, but he just can’t ask whether Hannibal had once said these words (albeit in strictly platonic circumstances) to his lost sister.

All he knows is that they had been separated as children, after a highwayman killed their parents, and that—by the amount of blood Hannibal had awoken to, his own thoughts fuzzy from the head injuries he had sustained—Mischa had been killed too, and dragged away to God-knows-where.

Will’s own father Billy never questioned why thieves or bandits hardly ever plagued their property, despite its comparative lack of size and larger vulnerabilities to its neighbors, but Will had a sneaking suspicion that Hannibal’s late-night disappearances might have something to do with it.

There had been a point in his life, when he was achingly young and Hannibal had not even started looking at him with a gleam in his eye, that he would do anything to stay with his servant, bordering on madness. He would start rows with his father about going into town; bite at any of the other staff who would attempt to pry him from Hannibal’s grip. And Hannibal would smile blandly and politely at Will, knowing they would be able to reunite after whatever errand Billy needed to run, but Will always wanted to err on the side of caution when it came to his favorite person. For who was anyone to say that his life would not change from riches back to rags in the course of a single day, as it once had before, and take Hannibal along with it?

Hannibal understood him. He was polite, not kind, but he always tried to accommodate Will, and Will hoped to give him the appreciation he deserved in exchange.

He deserves something in exchange, Will thinks sardonically, whimpering in discomfort as Hannibal offers a kerchief to Will for his leaking nether regions. 

“I’ve got it,” he snaps, the vestiges of the intimate moment before shattered by the irritation in his tone, though the mood dissipates into familiar, comfortable silence once more as he refastens his trousers and straightens Hannibal’s clothes , Hannibal straightening his, without a single discomfited comment between them.

They’ve made progress today. If they keep it up at this rate, they’ll be a moderately functional couple in no time, Will thinks fondly. 

“You will need a thorough washing-up before you join your father at table,” Hannibal says, and Will hates how fast his ears perk up at that, like a dog’s.

“Are you going to help me, then?”

“My duty and my honor,” Hannibal smiles, and Will loves him, loves him, loves him for his sincerity.

 

 

 

Winston trots out to them, promptly as always when they return, but Buster and Henriette have gotten out as well, which is unusual, and their tails aren’t wagging. Buster’s sharp nipping is shrill enough to wake the dead, and the hairs on the back of Will’s neck prickle, the ribbon holding his hair back suddenly itching at the base of his skull.

“That’s a police carriage,” he whispers, Hannibal’s expression hardening.

God, let his father be alright.

A copper wearing a lieutenant’s markings strides out of the house, more hounds at his heels, and then Will’s father, face pale and contorted.

“Is it true?! You bloody ungrateful cur, I gave you a house and good work—I let you look after my son, and this is how you repay me?” he shouts, and Will tries to sidestep between his father and his servant, though Hannibal’s already stood his ground in front of him, ready to meet his father head-on.

“Papa!” Will gasps, trying not to snarl as his father shoves him out of the way, back towards the waiting copper, who grabs Will by the arm to hold him back.

“They found a note, on the body at the mill, as if it had fallen out of someone’s coat pocket. It was a bloody shopping list! Took it around town and the surrounding villages trying to recognize the hand, and the woman at the grocer’s told them it was you!”

His father is shouting vitriol at Hannibal, and jabbing him in the chest with a pointed finger, turning redder and redder as Hannibal’s eyes darken.

Will would like to say that he was surprised, but Hannibal is not denying anything, and this is not the first person to be found dead and mutilated since Hannibal has joined their staff. There were only a thousand people in this town—a few of the landed gentry and some of the rare recluses of the ton—but someone was bound to notice something eventually.

Why did it have to be now?

“If you have nothing to say to dispute the evidence against you, I’ll have to take you in and question you formally. At this point, I can only recommend thinking about how you’ll explain yourself to the executioner.”

It was well-known that magistrates would take pity on beloved underlings should others accuse a house’s servants of a crime, but there would be no help here and no trial if Hannibal’s titled employer was the one to accuse him of murder.

A lesser man than Hannibal would have pointed out that had the war not ravaged the Lecter fortune, he would have been entitled to a trial and have been on equal standing with the Grahams, but Hannibal is entirely calm when he points out, “I filed a report with your department earlier in the week. My coat—with my things in it, surely including that list—was stolen while I was out performing my weekly errands on behalf of the Grahams.”

Will watches his father swallow visibly, mouth gaping like a fish as he tries to form words and find none forthcoming. Now, he turns crimson in shame rather than anger at jumping to conclusions, the lieutenant narrowing his eyes and begrudgingly letting Will free of his gloved grip.

“Can anyone attest to this?” the lieutenant says suspiciously, and Hannibal nods.

“Miss Du Maurier, of Du Maurier—,” he starts, and the lieutenant snorts.

“Well, there’s only one Du Maurier family here,” he says. “Goodnight, gentleman. Pray I don’t have to call on you again, Lecter.”

“I will indeed, sir,” Hannibal says, not sparing the copper another glance.

 

 

 

Will’s father is not in the mood to eat in the dining room, so Will chooses to take his supper in his own rooms after a requisite bath, marveling at the waste of his great aunt’s cavernous house. So many rooms, plus the servant’s quarters, and only a handful of people to fill them. Occasionally, the parson would stop by, but once a religious man, Will’s father had given up on the practice entirely and only accepted company if the parson was coming over to play gin.

It was lonely, but Will enjoyed solitude. Or so he thought, before he realized that his father may make the choice to let go of any of the servants, including Hannibal, at any time, and that the possibility of his already small world shrinking even more drastically made his chest constrict with something worse than fear.

“Did you kill that person at the mill?” he asks, Hannibal’s regular scrubbing motions at his back stopping for just a second. But what a telling second it is.

Hannibal being caught by surprise was a rare occurrence. They both liked order—Will with the strict organization of his closet, the pictures he hung in his room, the fishing lures, each with their own place, Hannibal with the care he put into his heavily alphabetized library, the plating of the dishes he carried in from Cook, how sharp he kept Earl Graham’s skinning knives, always prepared for the hunt—and did not function well without it.

If this was to be the moment when Will fully invited disorder in, he hoped Hannibal would feel brave enough to tell the truth.

“It was a man, if you were wondering. And yes,” Hannibal says, and Will, not expecting to hear the confession delivered so nonchalantly, slumps against the tub.

He should accuse him, furiously as his father had, but all he can manage is a shaky, “Why?”

Realizing that this is perhaps the worst question to ask—Hannibal won’t answer until Will has discerned why for himself—he finds himself trembling with rage at the equally blunt, “Because I wanted to,” Hannibal gives him in reply.

“You nearly got yourself fired—Would’ve gotten yourself killed had they arrested you for execution! Will Du Maurier really say that your coat was stolen? What reason would she have to support you?”

Hannibal smiles, and only now can Will see the mad glee behind his usual unruffled demeanor. That almost unhinged delight calls to him, and he does not know how to continue further without giving this terrifying fact away.

“She owes me a favor. Enough favors to save a life.”

“Hopefully it’s your life and not hers. What did she do that you can use as leverage against her? You’re quite confident in your arrangement; did she kill someone that you know about, too?”

“That would be her story to tell, Will,” he says, tipping Will back beneath the surface of the water to rinse.

Will surfaces, sputtering. “I won’t waste time on her—She looks at me whenever I walk into her precious store like I’m scum. She thinks I’m just an old poor fisherman’s boy who had a stroke of luck, and she’s right. It’s none of my business if she killed someone, as long as it doesn’t affect me.”

The moral dilemma pulls at his heartstrings, but would it be right to save strangers by destroying the one man outside his bloodline whom he’s learned to trust implicitly over the past decade? They all live quiet lives in the countryside, (mostly) harming no one, going about their days as usual. They don’t deserve to become victims of anyone, murderer or common thief or someone who knows something but won’t say. 

What Hannibal does may not be acceptable by society’s standards, but Will knows the other man thinks it’s...necessary. 

“How very mature of you,” Hannibal says, patronizing. A decade more advanced, he still thinks of Will as half his lover, half his charge.

“How is this for mature, Hannibal? How much money do you have squirreled away? I want to go to the Continent.”

Hannibal’s brow creases at the sudden declaration but quickly smooths, something like encouragement in the smile around his eyes. This is how Will knows his proposal is a terrible idea.

“We will be hard-pressed to answer questions when we return. I was just questioned about the murder of a local citizen, and choosing to take flight with you not a day later is reckless behavior at the least. At worse, condemning.” 

“Maybe,” Will says, with great effort. “Or maybe we don’t return. Not for a while, anyway, till the murders are just a bad memory. Till all you’ll get in public is dirty looks instead of public accusations.”

“Take the pack with us. Leave a note to your father. It’s almost polite,” Hannibal says, and doesn’t that make him an awful person, Will thinks, running away from home with a confessed madman and all he can linger on is he remembered the dogs.

 

 

 

The overwhelmingly musty aroma of the cellar is enough to make Will’s stomach heave and his throat tickle, so he can only imagine how it must seem to Hannibal, who had once commented on Will’s ill-thought-out plans to ride to town one day, his destination determined just by the lingering stech of the city on his jacket.

“Come,” Hannibal urges, as if coaxing a spooked animal, but Will ignores the guiding hand Hannibal offers him, descending down into the mud-colored dark, running his finger down jars holding pickled onions and rows upon rows of sweet beets.

On a corner shelf, hidden behind a small army of glass containers, is a painting. Wrapped in butcher’s paper, Hannibal unrolls the edge of it to show a Master’s mark on the heavy canvas, and Will’s eyes go wide.

“Christ, that must be worth a fortune,” he whispers.

“I managed to rescue it from a man who was attempting to fence it in Liverpool. He didn’t know its true value, and attempted to increase its value by.” He pauses. “By removing a few imperfections from the back of the canvas.”

He runs a big hand over a space with the faintest black smudge on it.

“My sister was playing in the basement, where my parents hid the things they would wish to hide or flee with if the war ever reached our doorstep. She swiped her hand through the grime on the floor, and left a print here.”

The lantern in his hand flickers and wanes. Nearly out of oil, and the wick’s burnt down.

“It is long over,” he says wistfully, “We must leave, before the rest of the house wakes.”

Will gulps at the image of the note he left in his father’s study, him tiptoeing like a thief to weigh it down with inkwell and quill flashing through his mind’s eye. Contemplates the worst that would happen if they stay.

“Hannibal,” he says, at a loss, and follows his servant back up to the surface without another word.

 

 

 

In abstraction, it is possible for Will to separate the murders Hannibal has committed from what he is like every other moment of the day: charming, competent, and wholly unassuming.

This illusion is quickly dispelled on their steamship journey to the Continent, during which Hannibal kills and tosses one man overboard, and later threatens to do the same to his wife.

Will had spent much time in the water as a child, but hardly in the open ocean of the Channel, quite this far away from land, and he had been feeling peculiarly seasick, quietly sneaking out to the deck in hopes that the fresh air might calm his roiling nausea.

No such luck, it seemed, as he spied a familiar shadow hoisting a man into the sea with a muted splash. The man’s neck was bent at an odd angle, and Will resisted the urge to gag. He had shivered and sweat, but after his initial recoil, he felt nothing but curiosity at who the man was and why he had died.

Why are you doing this to me? he wanted to ask Hannibal, though it was a far more appropriate question to ask himself. He had chosen this alternative. He had written a goodbye letter, though he had not mentioned outright where he was going or who he was going with. His father would find out soon enough, but he had been the one to decide that anyone who attempted to find them would not have an easy time of it.

In such close quarters, there is no hope of distracting himself by making love or attempting anything more than petting, and he finds their normally scintillating discussions of art, literature, and philosophy lacking their usual verve. Was this what had drawn him away from his home? The fleeting pleasure of a little death and someone he had become dependent upon?

Hannibal had never lied to him, he thinks wistfully; he did really control most aspects of Will’s waking life.

Don’t let it stay that way, he tells himself, though the protest becomes weaker and weaker, and falls all but silent by the time they reach the Continent.

 

 

 

“You may find these identities a bit difficult to maintain,” Hannibal says, Will raising a brow, though it is mostly hidden by the spill of his undone hair.

“You might find yours difficult to maintain. I will find it completely easy to play a spoiled brat because your affections have reduced me to such, and thus, I have the advantage. You, on the other hand, have never had the opportunity to flaunt your wealth, privately or publicly, and you will find that spending to excess may go against your usually frugal ways.”

They are in a hotel in Paris, and Hannibal frowns in distaste at the bill they receive for “harboring a large number of wild animals at the monsieur’s request”.

By the second week, they are in Rome, and Will is proved wrong, Hannibal taking to the nobleman’s skin like a fish to water, gifting them both with rare books and trips to the opera. They dine at parties with waiters in gold cravats, and watch their shadows grow and fade as they wind around the Colosseum at dusk.

If his father is looking—and Will knows he shall be—he will be searching for two shabbily dressed young men, a curly haired earl’s son who thinks his inheritable title a joke, and a wayward servant who presents all possible dangers to the earl’s son in question.  

Still, he cannot resist the lure of cheap pubs and the smarmy establishments of his younger years, the places that remind him of his father before the earl practically boarded himself up in a beautiful, lonely house that would’ve been Will’s untimely fate had he not been forced to act.

Someday, perhaps, they will return to that sort of life in a countryside somewhere, though this time, the chores will be divided evenly, and the dogs will not be confined indoors as often. All he knows is that a place like this is not the place he ultimately belongs. While educational, neither is the city, with its crushes of fashionable people and endless sources of entertainment.

“You’re not bound to me anymore, you know. I’m afraid of what’ll happen if the day comes when we finally bore each other for good,” he confesses, when they are lying by the fire in yet another hotel, the dogs surrounding them, the whisper of their contented snores broken only by the crackle charred kindling as it is continually eaten by the flames.

“The things that bind me to you are invisible,” Hannibal tells him, after a long silence, his chin resting on Will’s crown. “But they are more powerful than the strongest of irons.”

And there, by the fire, Will knows he’s found a place to belong.

Chapter Text

Hans-Peter Schneider’s lashless eyes watch the couple sitting across the restaurant—an old man in a Panama hat with his arm thrown in casual possession around a younger man in unusually well-cut chinos—with the morbid interest of one accustomed to doling out suffering, who was more than glad to spend his idle moments dwelling on what pain he could inflict on strangers if he only had the time and opportunity to do so.

His profession such as it was, coupled with his bizarre sexual proclivities, often led him down the path of macabre fantasy, and as he watches, he relishes the fact that the younger of the two men—a curly haired pretty boy with a wicked scar on his cheek—has a face just made for the desperate throes of agony. 

Would you like another scar to add to your collection? he wonders amusedly, cataloguing an old gouge on that pretty brow bone while toying with the toothpick between his teeth. 

Hans-Peter was here in Havana to pick up a sleek little boat that would travel him to his next job in Miami and a lovely girl by the name of Karla to accompany him on his journey, but there was nothing to keep him from the harmless diversion of people-watching in his few hours left on Cuban soil. 

Except, of course, for his last matter of business—a quick pickup of four human kidneys and the same number of lungs destined for an exclusive dinner party at the Grand Marina Bay Hotel—which was being irritatingly uncooperative at the moment, his expected contact to provide said organs exceptionally late to their meeting (Hans-Peter himself not wanting to admit he had appeared at the restaurant rendezvous exceptionally early).

The nameless marketplaces he dealt with in matters of organ trading often gave him a name or general appearance to look for when connecting with an unfamiliar contact for the first time, but his current employer had merely smirked at him over a poorly connected video call a few hours before and uttered a cryptic, “You’ll know him when you see him.”

Scanning the periphery of the bar—this place was a tourist trap of the highest caliber—and then circling back around to the tables, once more to the same couple with their arms round one another’s chairs and a large, shiny suitcase at their loafer-clad feet, Hans-Peter’s mouth twitches. 

Could this old man with an alcoholic’s perpetual flush and his curly haired friend be the contact he was waiting for? Or were they just another few exhausted tourists taking a break far off the beaten path before they meandered back to their boring lives and an overpriced vacation rental by the beach?

Well. Peel back ten pounds on that beer gut, a little less grey in the hair, minus the beard...

As if sensing his scrutiny, the older man’s gaze flickers to Hans-Peter, and it seems that all the noise in the air grinds to a startling halt when their eyes meet.

Someone in the hostel next door is playing Argentinian tango music far too loudly, a couple at the mouth of the cafe are screaming at one another in Portuguese, and Hans-Peter realizes, with the belated startle of a prey animal already snatched up into the monster’s jaws, that he can process none of it because he is too busy gawking at the unconventional gourmet formerly known as Hannibal the Cannibal sitting next to a man the international media had once termed “Bluebeard’s Latest Casualty.”

Hmmm...he thinks to himself. It’s all starting to make sense now. 

Organ trade of the clandestine type aside, his employer insisted that tonight’s exchange take place in a nauseatingly public setting.

You’ll know him when you see him. 

You’ll know when you See, you ignorant dolt!

Oh dear, Hans-Peter! What are you doing Hans-Peter? his mother’s voice calls, in the echo of his memory. Though instead of being afraid of him, she sounds fearful for him. 

He blinks, toothpick shattering against his incisor and pricking a bleeding tear into his upper gums. Licking absently at the wound, he looks up to see the pretty boy—Will Graham, still blue-eyed despite what must’ve been a few bits of cosmetic surgery done to disguise the more telling features of his face—smirking at him, and feels a hot ghost of breath against the nape of his neck. 

The suitcase isn’t at Graham’s feet anymore, and he jolts at a sudden noise behind him, far more magnified in his adrenaline-heightened senses than the background scrape of utensils or the drunken coeds haphazardly attempting to climb onto the bar to dance. 

Thump, goes the biohazard cargo, slightly to his right. It’s a heavy sound, much heavier than expected, and Hans-Peter wonders what sort of refrigerant Lecter uses on the organs he apparently harvests and sells in his free time.

Hmph. 

Suitcase is right behind you now, Hans-Peter. So is the devil, my boy. His mother’s voice again, shrieking its useless, belated warnings into his head.

The urge to narrate his own misfortune by mimicking her voice aloud strikes him, though this idiosyncrasy will garner unneeded attention from the predator before him, so he tries to lead-in with calm, reasonably clever conversation instead. 

“Married life not working out? Need money for alimony?” he greets the international fugitive who also happens to be his contact tonight. Doctor Lecter nods to him in acknowledgment, and takes the remaining chair at Hans-Peter’s two-person table. 

“Building up a rainy day fund,” the doctor corrects offhandedly, whilst smoking a cheap cigarette that makes his eyes glow like hot coals. Watching him keenly on the exhale, Hans-Peter finally puts a finger on why he hadn’t seen through the festive bowling shirts and expensive hats, and known it was Lecter and Graham from the get-go. 

Whatever cosmetic surgery the doctor had done to Graham to make his face less recognizable had also been done to him, robbing the doctor of that distinctive appearance which had once been splashed across every major newspaper headline for the past half-decade. 

Gone were most of those razor-sharp angles that made paraphiliac devotees the world over weep, though the doctor hadn’t allowed himself to change or otherwise conceal the pigment in those startling maroon eyes.  

Hans-Peter was usually more prone to inspiring panic—whether by his appearance in full leather to toy with his unwilling playmates or by the sheer depth and breadth of his sadism—than succumbing to it, but being in the midst of someone who may match or even surpass his own talent for cruelty meant he had to be cautious.

But money’s already changed hands, he tells himself. The thump of the suitcase is his ticket out of here. 

(They wouldn’t double cross me and leave me to Lecter. They wouldn’t endanger themselves and let me lead the cops to their doorstep.) 

It’d be hysterical if something even more impossibly surreal happened, like the case accidentally popping open and flopping the organs out onto the restaurant floor, but it would also lead to a lot of questions, and Hans-Peter reasons that the thousand sets of eyes around here are insurance for both of them. 

A known cannibal caught red-handed with a bundle of human organs would be quite a thing to explain to the police, after all.

“If you’re looking for fast money, your pet would fetch a high price,  you know,” he says, in an attempt to dispel his own uncharacteristic anxiousness. “You’d have to be willing to part with him, of course. Or with certain parts. There’s quite a market for blue eyes nowadays.” 

Lecter continues to smoke his cigarette in silence, and all the surrounding body heat, coupled with the humidity of this outdoor cafe starts to get to Hans-Peter, who tracks the uncomfortable sensation of beaded sweat sliding down his shirtfront.

“That would be impossible,” Lecter says, with the surety of a liar’s liar.

So... just means he wouldn’t do that to Graham unless he knew he could eat him himself. 

Not for all the tea in China, and all that. 

Personally, Hans-Peter could think of and had thought of quite a few ways while waiting for this meet to improve Will Graham (aesthetically, of course, without distorting function too terribly) by removal or accentuation of certain parts, but he keeps these opinions to himself, as he would rather Lecter not rip out his tongue for saying so. 

“What could you possibly need with what my employers are paying you for this stock? The papers always said you came from money.”

Put it in the piggy bank to save up for his and his yachts, maybe? 

People speculated about how you evaded capture if you didn’t die on that cliff, but they were thinking you’d go back to Europe or to South America. Never thought to look to the high seas. 

“The meat should keep until you are in Miami. Have a drink at the Pelican Bar for me,” Lecter smiles, purposefully vague, and pats Hans-Peter on the wrist, gesture reminiscent of a doting uncle.

Hans-Peter does not believe in a lower power (or a higher one, for that matter), but the heavy dread that pools like molasses in his belly at the touch, begs him, for at least a moment, to reconsider. 

It was easy enough for Lecter to guess that he’d be headed to Miami to drop these organs off, but to name the lobby bar of the hotel where they were to be delivered? His employers did not have particularly loose lips, even if Lecter was somewhat of a culinary celebrity among their ilk, so there had to be a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why he knew exactly where Hans-Peter was slated to go.

But Lecter is already rising to leave, taking that particular mystery with him, and Hans-Peter croaks out, “Pleasure doing business with you.” 

Lecter’s noncommittal grin in response is difficult to read; he stubs out his cigarette on the table, head tilted slightly as if studying Hans-Peter with a butcher’s exacting eye, and Hans-Peter curses the fact that, with a little more bleaching, his flesh could easily pass for cod.

Evidently deciding against any rash, public action against him, the doctor tips his hat and walks away without another word. No threat against his person for insulting Graham, no nothing.

Hans-Peter watches the doctor and  his pet exit the restaurant in an ancient Chevrolet taxi bound for God-knows-where, and does not move from his spot at the table until he is sure he will not be followed, even with the danger of meat spoilage hovering over his head. 

This is ridiculous, he thinks a handful of minutes later, the sounds and colors all rushing back, as if a curse has been lifted. Whatever light and energy Lecter had sucked out of the room returns as if it had never left. 

Just pick up the damned case and go back to Karla and stop being intimidated by a man’s fucking reputation. 

He would be a few thousand dollars richer once he made this delivery to the Grand Marina Bay, and there was a ton of gold waiting for him beneath a foreclosed waterfront mansion in Miami. Once the delivery was properly finished, the opportunity to seize that gold would be all his. 

With this more pleasant thought, Hans-Peter Schneider’s attitude improves vastly, and he heaves the case into his car—first cracking it open to take a whiff of the product, one hundred percent human, no trouble here—whistling to himself about sauerkraut and beets as he climbs into the driver’s seat. 

It is a tune used in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and it is his favorite song.

Chapter Text

“He’s going to be your teaching assistant. Before you ask, it’s on a trial period basis, yes, there’s room for it in the budget, and sorry, you can’t say no.”

Will stares at his boss, then to the other two men in the room—SAC Crawford of the BAU, and his supposed new teaching assistant, with a name so bizarre he’s already resolved to forget it as soon as possible. 

“He’s too young,” he says to Crawford, and by virtue of being in such close proximity, to his boss as well. Pearsall was the type of guy who doesn’t like to rock the boat, and Will mourns the lost opportunity, because his boss might have acquiesced, had they been the only two in the room.

“I’m perfectly capable of holding my own, Will,” the kid says, his deep, dark eyes fixed amusedly on Will’s expressionless face. 

“I’m sure you would be, in a traditional university setting. But you’ve got little to no law enforcement experience, and the trainees won’t respect you without it, no matter how many degrees you have.”

Pearsall raises his eyebrows, silently alarmed. 

“Didn’t you get the e-mail I sent? Jesus, Graham, it wasn’t meant to be a cold open like this...

“See, Doctor Lecter here helped crisis manage for our psych department this spring, when all that nastiness was happening. Anyway, he’s worked for the Bureau on contract before. 

“If it helps, just think of it as training a paid intern. I thought less classwork for you was supposed to be a good thing.”

Pearsall had been there when Will had helped Crawford find the Appalachian Axeman’s last victim; if he thought this Lecter kid could stomach it, could stand giving other kids advice on how to hunt someone like that down, then Will would really have no choice but to cave on the issue.

He always put up a token protest when he thought something was wrong, but bowing to popular opinion was eventually what paid the bills, no matter what Crawford always told him about being the only one who could do what he did.

There was Heimlich at Harvard, Alana Bloom at Georgetown. And, for whatever reason (Will had honestly not even glanced at the doctor’s credentials, so he couldn’t say for certain) Pearsall and Crawford thought they should add Doctor Lecter to that revered shortlist of names.

“Are you gunning for my job?” he asks this young doctor, whose faintly cocky smile is sharper than a knife’s blade. 

“You said it yourself. I’m young, with little to no law enforcement experience. You think they won’t respect me. Perhaps you even wonder if your own lack of seniority causes your students to lack faith in your abilities. Thirty-eight is awfully young to make instructor here.”

“We’re not here to talk about me. We’re here to talk about you. From what Pearsall says, you started out with a promising career in crisis management, so what happened?”

Lecter studies his growing frustration with such blatant enthusiasm it’s a wonder he hasn’t got a pad and paper out to jot down notes. 

Pulse elevated, flush extends down to the clavicle. Fetching shade of red; avoids eye contact, even when provoked.  

“Why is he here?” he whirls on Jack, instinctively leaping to the childish reflex that emerges at the worst of times. Don’t like the answer you get, try again somewhere else. 

“I want to expand my horizons,” Lecter says, answering for Jack with a faint, mocking tip of the head.

Crawford coughs, to clear the air. He puts a hand on Will’s shoulder, which Will instinctively wants to shrug off, but doesn’t. 

“Don’t sell yourself short, Doctor. John Butler was our liaison at Johns Hopkins on the Buffalo Bill case, but you’re the one that caught him.” 

Will’s skin prickles at the look of poorly disguised envy in Crawford’s gaze.

Crawford is capable of playing the long game, but Will can see what his plan is, clear as day, before Jack can even attempt to make his next heavy-handed move.

Throw the two prodigies together in the classroom, see which pony was a winner, and which one he could stable for a rainy day. If, of course, Will’s lovely people skills didn’t eat Lecter alive first. 

“I made a few leaps,” Lecter says, irritatingly humble for someone Will’s sure has more doctorates than could fit on one of those nice name placards like the one he has hanging on his own office door. 

Shared office, he guesses now, grousing to himself about the cramped quarters. 

“It’s settled, then,” Pearsall says, crisis averted, and Crawford squeezes Will’s shoulder once before letting go. 

“I’ll lead in with my lecture on Bill, and Doctor Lecter will walk them through the profile—with your guidance, of course,” he says, and Will holds back a grimace.

“Whoo-wee,” Pearsall exhales, patting his audibly rumbling stomach. Pearsall had recently over-shared that it could just be acid reflux, but he hadn’t yet worked up the courage to confirm it with a physician. “Well, glad that’s done. I’m starvin’.”

“Likewise,” Will grits out. “Night boss. Goodnight, Agent Crawford.”

Pearsall’s face develops a twitch, and he jerks his head unsubtly over in Lecter’s direction, as if the doctor is the unpopular kid that no one wants to talk to at a sleepover. 

If only, Will snorts to himself. Inter and intraoffice politics felt like it, sometimes.

“It was nice to meet you, Doctor Lecter,” he says, insincere as all hell, though by the oddly pleased expression on Lecter’s sharp-boned face, he doesn’t seem to mind. 

“Please,” he says lowly, and Will swallows at the low, rough timbre of his voice. “Call me Hannibal.”

Chapter Text

Inelle Corey can be a sweet woman when she wants to be, always fawning over Chilton like she’s his mother or something, but she’s nasty when she’s stressed, nastier, even, when she gets that look of righteous anger on her face.

“I think I’m perfectly capable of ignoring someone who’s usually behind a set of reinforced steel bars, Mr. Matthews, I am an adult,” she protests now, nevertheless trailing behind Barney as if using him for a shield, her khaki orthotics squeaking against the machine-waxed floors. Her sister, who has spent the last ten minutes through visitor registration complaining about her three children, left behind at a local hotel with their inebriated father, is a jolting contrast to Inelle’s drab wardrobe, in tight exercise pants, legwarmers, and a neon-colored windbreaker.

“Doctor Lecter’s made a whole bunch of educated types bawl their eyes out, just from talkin’ to him for a few minutes,” Barney protests, but Chilton’s already told him Inelle and her sister would be stopping by, that they would be allowed past the gate, no matter what objections Barney raised.

Maybe Chilton was trying to show off, or Inelle hadn’t wanted him drowning her in engagement presents, but this was honestly one of the stupidest things Barney had come across, in all his years of working in the system. The two ladies didn’t even want anything for their papers or publications or to find the bodies Lecter still hadn’t ever admitted to burying; they just wanted to come in here to look at him and laugh.

It was job security, sure, when they inevitably came back to the orderly station humiliated or worse, but it was covering his own ass, really, since Mr. Graham was visiting his boyfriend as they spoke. Barney didn’t want to face Doctor Lecter after being forced to interrupt that.

The two men’s voices echo across the long walk to the last cell on the left, though Inelle and her sister Bridgette are too busy squawking at each other over whether to go to Red Lobster for dinner, or to spring for Olive Garden instead. Red Lobster apparently had a cheaper kid’s menu.

“…bye, baby,” Graham’s saying, going far over the white line and pressing his lips between the bars, leaving a puckered smear on the cell’s additional plexiglass layer between it and the outside. Trying to squeeze a real kiss through the ventilation holes would be pushing it, but Barney’s always picked up some weird kind of tease going on between them, even though Doctor Lecter is the absolute last patient Chilton would ever approve for conjugal visits.

Inelle looks up at the sound of Graham’s lips leaving the glass, and her poorly disguised disgust at the goodbye between them is oddly mitigated by Doctor Lecter’s sharp-toothed smile. Barney always expected someone that wealthy to have had perfect dental work, but Doctor Lecter’s teeth are very crooked and shark-like, though they are a blinding white against the dim cell lighting.

Barney looks at the Doctor, sometimes, and sees what he would do to Graham, if the barriers weren’t there. He hoped, for Graham’s sake, that Doctor Lecter didn’t cannibalize those who were still living enough to feel it.

He coughs. “Have a nice afternoon,” he tells Mr. Graham, not bothering with a name because Inelle Corey already knew it from putting it down in the visitor ledger. The only thing that kept her from talking to the National Tattler reporters that occasionally sniffed around here was that Chilton was the sole person allowed in their spotlight, other than his unfortunate patients, of course.

“Thanks, Barney, see you next month,” Graham says, not even glancing back, though Doctor Lecter somehow simultaneously watches the subtle sway of his hips as the guard buzzes him through the gate, as well as the approaching trio, eyes crinkled at the corners in a congratulation for Barney’s politeness to Graham.

One of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history shacking up with a young prodigy FBI profiler wasn’t the biggest headline the Tattler ever ran, but it was one of ‘em. Chilton was probably waiting for something really spectacular from the recordings he took of conversations down here, like Graham confessing complicity or aide in one of Doctor Lecter’s murders.

“I can smell your pretty cunts from here, ladies,” Miggs hisses, laughing like a hyena and kicking at the bars, making a general racket of himself. “Come back here, Graham, I’ll give you what you want!” He grabs at his crotch—his jumpsuit permanently unbuttoned—and starts masturbating himself, Barney whacking his own forearm across Miggs’s cell to startle him.

The sound of skin on skin stops for a few moments, before Miggs resumes again.

Barney rolls his eyes, the Coreys’ horrified expressions almost worth it as he steers them back towards Doctor Lecter’s cell.

“Good afternoon, Doctor Lecter,” he says, trying to meet the Doctor’s eyes though he’s embarrassed on his behalf. Doctor Lecter didn’t care for empty apologies; he knew Barney was just doing his job.

“Good afternoon, Barney,” he says, acknowledging him with a slight, regal tilt of his head. “I believe it’s Denise’s birthday, today. Please tell her I wish her the best.”

“I can do that, Doctor,” Barney says.

“Thank you,” Doctor Lecter replies, then, like a hawk spotting a family of mice racing for their burrow, he fixes his red eyes on the Corey sisters. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”

Barney knows it’s against policy to speak for the sisters, since they’re not here in any professional capacity, so he keeps his mouth shut as Inelle Corey shifts nervously, Bridgette already starting to squirm, gum clicking in her mouth the only noise other than the constant low moaning and the slick squelch of Miggs spitting on his own dick for more lubrication.

“That cologne smells like Frederick Chilton. A little interoffice fraternizing, perhaps. You must be Inelle, the tight-laced one.”

“I’ll make you scream, Inelle,” Miggs howls, and Barney hears the familiar groan of his completion, Doctor Lecter congratulating him in a gravelly, sibilant voice that makes the hairs on the back of Barney’s neck stand up. When they talk, late at night sometimes, Lecter uses a clear, lecturer’s voice. Resonant, without being loud.

This is nothing like that. This is the sort of voice that pops up in schizophrenic’s heads and gives them orders they cannot refuse. The sort of voice that gets FBI profilers to let monsters crawl into their bed, arms open wide for the sorts of things that would devour men whole.

“That’s very good, Miggs. Very impressive. The Coreys over here are over the moon about it. You should show these two nice ladies what you’ve made.”

Barney, who obeys his own rules about standing behind the white line unless he’s got to restrain or move a prisoner, sees the signs and the moment everything goes to hell in slow motion, though it happens in real time in less than five seconds.

The Coreys, who have come to gawk, are not good at following the rules.

Inelle Corey gets splattered with Miggs’s fresh semen, still-warm, though her sister is the one who gets a face-full of it, the one who lets out the shriller scream.

“Oh—ugh—disgusting, you disgusting fucking animal!” Bridgette Corey rails, getting close to Miggs’s cell, acrylic nails out like claws, and Barney sees where this is going way ahead of time, knows it ends with Bridgette Corey’s broken neck. Swooping in to grab her from behind like a lifeguard drags the drowning to safety, she kicks and howls, though her five-three frame is nothing against his six-five.

Barney doesn’t have to pump iron as much as he does, but functional strength is always a plus in a job where people are constantly trying to kill each other or plotting on it. And if they’re not doing that, they’re trying to throw shit or talk themselves up, and most people don’t like being covered in the contents of a toilet bowl, all before lunch.

Inelle Corey is so shell-shocked she’s frozen, doesn’t even open her mouth further to spit out the jizz on the corner of it, doesn’t scold her sister for using such language.

One less to worry about, he thinks, but that’s never true when anyone’s around Doctor Lecter.

“Are you alright, Inelle?” Doctor Lecter says, gentle and fatherly. “Is it a surprise, to see the creatures your beloved Fred keeps?”

Inelle stutters, and Barney tugs her back with his other arm, still supporting a sobbing Bridgette in the crook of his left, her limp feet hanging off the ground like a kid’s.

“Okay, everyone’s had their fun, recess is over,” he babbles, trying to keep their attention away from the doctor, but they’re already drawn in, a few guileless flies caught in a spider’s web.

“If you think I’m the worst of them, your Fred’s got them duped better than the desperate state mental health superintendent who took a cursory look at his qualifications and thought his doctoral degree was legitimate. Something to discuss over the no doubt awkward family dinner the two of you will have tonight.

“And tell your companion, when she’s finished having her little fit—Remember these exact words: If you’re looking to find a better job for the kiddies, trade wardrobes with your practical friend Inelle, but don’t think it will make him stick around; his foot’s already halfway out the door.”

A bit of spittle dribbles off Inelle’s chin as her face twists in mortified anguish, and Barney gets them to the orderly station, waits for the electric buzz of the gate unlocking.

“Afternoon, Doctor Lecter,” he calls, only half-remembering, and Miggs’s cackle swallows the doctor’s reply.

“Come baaaack, preeeeetty ladies, hah, come back, I got another!” Miggs laughs, and Alan, in the cell closest to the door, begins to cry.

 

 

 

Barney keeps looking up for the anvil hovering above his head, though Inelle surprises him.

Old Inelle would’ve cried to Chilton at the first sign of trouble.

There was a man—that man, Alan—throwing his own excrement—from the bowl, Fred, from the gosh-darned bowl, onto his own bed! That awful, awful thing in the cell next to Lecter’s, he threw—he flung it out of the cell, oh, you know, jism, he threw jism, Freddie.

Inelle post-jism event sees Chilton in the break room (where he lingers, when no one’s actively asking something of him or when the state inspector’s late, as always) and doesn’t kiss him, just pats him on the shoulder and hands him a coffee as if this is their personal living room and Barney’s just witness to their domestic play, instead of frantically packing sugar packets into his coffee to keep his drooping eyelids open.

Night classes were hell on full-timers, but Barney spent his waking hours in hell, a few correspondence courses weren’t going to sink him if he could help it.

The good thing about this new Inelle was that she was apparently able to internalize and deal with it however she dealt with it, and Barney stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Still, he expected it to come up in conversation when the ward was quiet enough and Doctor Lecter asked him, in the middle of the night, a Dick Haymes record playing softly in the background. Barney had never given the Great American Songbook much weight, and Doctor Lecter listened to classical, mainly, but it was the only thing they could agree on that Chilton kept around.

“How is the lovely Eye-Nelle doing? Did they ever make it to Red Lobster for that dinner?”

Of course, he’d heard them arguing like a pair of hyenas, walking down to his cell.

“Did you know that Sammy Cahn wrote this song in a bar in Manhattan, in five minutes? Yeah, sat down right at the local saloon piano and plunked it out in the time it takes most bartenders to make a good drink,” he deflects, Doctor Lecter chuckling politely, accepting the segue.

“We must strive to learn new things every day, Barney. Keeps the mind young. Keeps it limitless,” he says, and Barney knows that he can’t get involved, not socially, not personally, but God help him, he believes him.

A disgraced criminal, sitting alone in a cell, and he thinks his mind is limitless.

As long as it keeps him entertained—so he’s not entertaining himself out here, dropping more bodies and such—Barney can’t argue with it. He’s not like Chilton, who thinks that being on a leash and in a cage means he’s got the beast tamed.

A scorpion is a scorpion is a scorpion, Barney thinks. Never forget it. It’s not even nature, or instinct, it’s some blend of both, for whatever reasons he’s got, or no reasons at all.

Can’t keep a hurricane in a mason jar, but he can try his best. Or, with any luck, he’ll pass the jar on someday, to some poor shmuck who knows how.

Doctor Lecter does not indulge in regret, but he’s always playing games, so he says, “A pity we couldn’t have met under different circumstances. You’re the most interesting conversation this institution has to offer, the best that much of the medical community has to offer as well.”

“Well, I’ve heard you’ve got money, doc. Next chance you get, Red Lobster. Your treat,” he says, before he can stop himself. They’re both fully aware that Barney wouldn’t ever really take the bait, trying to befriend a monster, but he’s still glad Chilton’s tape recorders always tend to conveniently malfunction around his shifts.

Lecter laughs, a rumbling sound that echoes along the metal cells. This late—or early, depending on how you slice it—the basement is reasonably quiet, and a hush falls over the cages, even the music from the record goes away.

“Good night, Barney,” Doctor Lecter says, Barney hoping he hasn’t just dug himself a deeper hole than he could risk.

“Good night, Doctor Lecter,” Barney mumbles, and snatches the record off the turntable, buzzes himself out, and leaves the shaking and wailing in their cells to lie.

In three hours, Inelle Corey and Frederick Chilton will go to their offices upstairs, and Barney will walk home and wonder whether their way of plugging along in the world, for all its willful blindness, wasn’t a better way than his, with all he forces himself to see and remember.

Dawn soon, and Barney walks out of the hospital feeling claustrophobic in the open air. Coughing to sober himself, he sniffs once, waits in the small crowd on Pine Avenue to cross the street.

When the little walking man pops up, they each look up for a moment—a single instant of group solidarity, each world weary in their own ways—before they scatter to the wind like birds.

Chapter Text

The year is 1985, and two girls that used to work on this block—one in an antique store, the other in Will’s profession—have gone missing, only to turn up without their eyes, tongues, and forelimbs days or even weeks later, corpses perfectly preserved except for the unavoidable evidence—opened throats and spilled guts—of their violent ends.

“You’re not worried?” Freddie asks, swinging her mile-long twiggy legs and popping her gum right near Will’s painstakingly blown-out hair. He winces. His hair’s the most arduous part of his work routine, and he can’t have that little punk screwing it up.

Big hair, big shoes, big money. It’s a tried and true formula for luring in closeted guys who can’t wait to get their fix of something prettier than their wives and white picket fences every Friday night when they’re supposed to be “out with the guys”.

And whether Will likes it or not, business goes better when he channels femme, because the johns are ever-so-predictable in wanting boys that look like girls. 

“All I’m worried about is creepy douchebags who justify their actions by thinking their wives would be okay with them fucking little shits like you. Get out of here, Freddie,” he says, how he says every night. “Go find a shelter and get some fucking help.”

She’s only a few years younger than him, but that porcelain doll quality hasn’t faded from her eyes. That cockiness is gonna fade real fast when her johns start to realize that the bratty act isn’t much of an act after all, but she hasn’t been around the block long enough yet for that to happen.

Give it time, Will thinks.

“Fuck you, old man,” Freddie spits, getting her stupid cherry-flavored gum on his jacket and forcing him to pick it off of the worn whitewashed denim, just one stain of an entire fucking collection Will has no memory on the origin of aside from God, I need change for a laundromat.

Come stain here, lipstick there. Coffee spills; too many to count. Even a few dabs of dried menstrual blood because, in the stranger’s own words, there had been no other place to sit except on his fucking jacket instead of on the mucky club floor, your fucking Highness.

“Nice night, Graham?” Jack calls, from the club’s warm doorway, probably his “subtle” way of making sure the girls are out on their rounds without the immediate threat of violence from someone looking to dismember them for kicks.

His above-board dealings with the club are what allow Will to exist on paper, so that he can leave whenever he saves up enough to get the fuck out of Baltimore and start up with another job somewhere new. Or at least that’s what he tells himself when Jack continues to send them out, evening after evening, despite the recent crackdowns.

Jack was a remarkably shitty pimp, which was ironically why Bella didn’t mind managing the club for him. Despite Jack’s shortcomings, he was one of the few people Will had negotiated with who treated their employees like they had brains to go along with their moneymakers.

“Nice night? Well, it’ll be nice if someone gives me what it says on the tin,” Will breathes, lighting a cigarette with the flame Jack offers.

Raising an eyebrow and gesturing to Will’s jacket, which reads, Good Time for $50, Jack shakes his head chidingly.

“It’s pretty blatant advertising, wearing it on you like a letterman. Bella runs a tight ship, Will. Best you don’t get picked up by some cop looking to get their jollies and a solicitation arrest in the same breath.

“‘I didn’t know it was for money’ ain’t gonna be much of a defense with hundreds in your wallet and some thrift store bullshit like that on your back.”

“It ain’t the worst thing I’ve ever had  on my back. The johns think it’s funny,” Will says. He’d had a plan, before it all went to shit. Could’ve joined up on the other side of the booking photo, if everything had worked out the way it should’ve, instead of the way it did.

Didn’t matter now, anyway; he was a streetwalker, and he’d probably die this way if he was lucky, twenty-four and jaded and old as all hell inside.

“I’m usually the one pushing you out there, God knows. Just. Be careful, Will. World’s a dangerous place nowadays.” 

Having said his piece, Jack tips his hat to the newspapers flying around the alley, each reading the same headline.

Chesapeake Ripper Slays Again.

Will scoffs.

“World’s always been dangerous, Jack. Ripper’s just another big fish in a sea of ‘em. Have a nice night, boss.”

At least one of us should, he thinks, breathing out smoke, dying a little with each echoing step.

  

 

A dinged Corolla pulls up, even with the same kind of damage on the front fender, but Will hides his disappointment when it’s not one of his favorite regulars in the driver’s seat, just some drunk who asks to watch Will pull out his cock and piss on the sidewalk, which is a hell of a thing to do when you’re tucked in this well, but Will gets a hundred for it and no fresh spunk anywhere in or on his body, so he’s down.

Blondie blares out of a bar as he keeps along his usual circuit, heels clicking against the sidewalk. He tends to start at a gas-n-go, and ends in the heart of downtown, where some lonely chumps are always ready and rearing to go near the Lifetime Bank building. 

Will scoffs amusedly to himself at the thought. Investment bankers and their secret desires to be spanked like misbehaving little boys.

He’s getting bored, his legwarmers and jacket not cutting it for the chilly late autumn weather. Christ, by this time of the year, the unbearable heat of summer had faded to nothing.

Still walking briskly to generate some body heat, he glances back to watch a Bentley roll by, easy as you please, the vehicle driving well below a crawl as someone in the front seat appreciates the view. 

He tracks it going around the block once before finally pulling up beside him.

“Need a ride?” the driver asks, peeking his head over to the passenger’s side to see him better, and Will rolls his eyes, because that’s exactly how an anonymous ride-offering murderer would want to sound: harmless, overly interested. Even without his hard-earned instincts from his years of fending off assholes, Will could see blindfolded that this guy has got good as a plastic bag with a noose waiting in the back seat.

Something about him just seems...fake. Like a news anchor being peppy when they’re talking about some gruesome tragedy and trying not to turn the audience off by leaning on the gory details.

“For the right price, I’ll ride whatever you want,” he says, discomfited at the guy’s freaky attitude and also at not being the one to approach first. They’re stopped in front of a little tapas place that bathes him and the car in ugly fluorescent light, and he’s glad for the potential witnesses if something awful is about to happen.

The john has a grown-out buzzcut goin’ on—nothing like the ridiculously voluminous perms or choppy mullets half the population seems to have bought into—a rumpled suit, and leather driving gloves.

Last seen with a Caucasian male, late 30s, getting into his stupid expensive car. Suspect had a buzz cut and dead, dark eyes, see composite for clues.

“Is fifty dollars the going rate for everything?” the driver says, tilting his head to indicate the walking ad on Will’s jacket.

“I start at fifty, but we can negotiate,” Will purrs. “Just cuz you’re handsome, honey, maybe I’ll let you have a little something for free.”

He lays the Southern belle on thick, to see what kind of animal he’s dealing with. 

If the guy blushes, Will might get in. Could be nothing but old-fashioned paranoia got his senses tinglin’.

He really needs all the cash he can get...

Too bad for both of them—mostly for Will’s eviction notice—the guy doesn’t even blink. Holds out a wad of cash and doesn’t care to look in the sideview mirror to see Will’s crossing his fingers about anything being for free.

“Whaddaya want for that, mister?” Will asks, teetering on his heels now from the cold, stationary for too long to turn down an offer of a warm car, even if it means he’s about to get smothered or cut. Not like he’s too dumb to cut back, if it comes to that.

“Company,” the stranger says, Will imagining it, this guy with his out-of-this-world expensive car and dark eyes sipping cognac while Will sucks his dick in some glass-walled penthouse. 

Or maybe...Well, he’s not so sure, but the twinkle in his eye at Will’s stupidly easy reaction to the cash? Will gets the vibe that he might not object to laying between Will’s legs to put his mouth all over him all night. If so, it would be a nice change of pace, and Will hopes for bubble baths and a clean loofah (and no demented Operation games with his eyeballs or any other parts).

Men like this are usually doctors, lawyers, bankers, or entrepreneurs, whatever that meant. Will wonders which he is, to drive a car this nice, have a suit tailored that well, even though it looks like he’s slept in it.

There’s one other possibility, of course, Will thinking back to those macabre newspapers swirling in the alley behind the club, but he pushes it away like a bad dream. His waking life’s already bad enough, no need to make it worse.

“Okay, stranger,” he smiles, flirtatious as a debutante but about as subtle as a freight train.

Still, he calls it survival when he glances in the rearview mirror while stepping into the car, exhaling softly when he sees there’s nothing nefarious hiding in the backseat.

It’s probably just his imagination playing tricks on him, but mister in the driver’s seat makes a noise that sounds a lot like a laugh.

Chapter Text

“The glasses look fine, Doctor Lecter,” Will insists, trying to hide his burning face with a cough and a hopeless pushing-back-my-hair gesture that probably looks like he’s having a little breakdown staring at the ridiculously handsome client wearing the new Antoine Berthole’s and studying himself in the mirror with a skeptic’s disappointed frown.

Rule number one—and this was a rule created solely to address his strange attraction to Doctor Lecter, with his unusual red eyes and stupid weird suits and killer smirk that made Will’s stomach feel funny—was don’t fraternize with the customer, but he was becoming more and more certain that there shouldn’t be a need for rules. Not when this was the third time Doctor Lecter had been back this month, and also the third time he’d dropped more than a thousand dollars on a pair of luxury frames that (to Will, at least) looked and fit just as devastatingly well as the first two did. 

Will was more than beginning to suspect that the Doctor wasn’t really here to quadruple-check his orders had the correct prescription installed or to discuss the fit of the nosepieces. Either that or Will was going crazy, reading into it too much when Hannibal had smiled softly at him last week and reassured, “You’re being very patient, Will. I promise to be out of your hair soon.” 

But “soon” would come and go if Doctor Lecter didn’t find a pair of frames he was happy with this week (he knew that Doctor Lecter favored the European brands, so there would be a two-day minimum wait for another pair), and Will hated how much he secretly wanted the doctor to stick around for at least one more appointment. He couldn’t send him off without the perfect pair of glasses, after all, it wouldn’t be right.

“They look odd,” Doctor Lecter decides, neatly folding the glasses and putting them back into their leather case. Will bites his tongue on how much he wants to yelp, “Nonono,” because the skinny black frames are the most elegant they have, and if they don’t work, nothing will (and no, not at all because he thinks it makes the Doctor look a little bit like a Euro version of Clark Kent). 

“I’ll pay for them, of course, but they’re not what I’m looking for.”

“You liked them well enough when you tried them on without the prescription lenses,” Will ventures, and thinks that Doctor Lecter is probably used to other people melting under his glares by the way he lays it on thick, subtly running his tongue over his teeth, even, like a predator waiting for the opportune moment to pounce.

But Will’s made of sterner stuff than most, so he scowls right on back and keeps going till he feels like an idiot, pissing on that asinine “costumer is always right” proverb. 

Half a minute they stand there narrowing their eyes at each other, until Will gathers up the composure to stow his annoyance and come out and ask.

“Does this charade of you not liking whatever you order have to do with some midlife crisis thing? Because if it does, I’ll tell you now, every pair of frames you’ve tried on look great on you.”

Doctor Lecter raises a brow. Clearly, this is not what he was anticipating Will would point out first.

“Thank you, but that’s not the issue—.”

“Then what is your damn issue, honey?” Will says, slipping back into the language he feels most comfortable with, rather than the boring yes sir, yes ma’am “professionalism” his boss encouraged. God knew the Doctor shouldn’t be surprised at it—they were practically bosom friends with how much Will had stared at his face under the guise of “doing his job”, not to mention how many times he’d handled the man’s credit card over these weeks. “Cuz if it’s you wondering if I’d accept if you asked me out, the answers a resounding yes.”

Standing there with a hand on his hip, he feels like the next seconds stretch out forever—though he’s for once not afraid of second guessing himself because the doctor didn’t even flinch at the words “asking me out”. But wealthy men can be prideful, and he thinks the Doctor may be the kind of person to talk him down about how wrong he is just to spite him.

God I hope not; if he tries, that’ll change my answer to a resounding no. 

“Alright then,” Doctor Lecter says, and what the hell—is he actually smiling? 

“You better take those damned glasses, you already spent more than I make in a month. It’d physically pain me to take your credit card behind the counter again.” 

Doctor Lecter steps closer to him, and the way he’s the slightest bit taller than Will should make him feel boxed in (they’re way past the casual-conversation space and into a more intimate bubble of proximity that Will thinks he’d like to test out much more in the future), though the blatant attempt to intimidate honestly makes him feel more like pushing back than shrinking away, which is actually a good thing.

Can’t be with someone unless you feel confident they can take whatever you dole out and vice versa. 

“I’ll pick up the bill at dinner then.”

“Who said anything about dinner? Breakfast, I pick the place. You pay for you, I pay for me. You like pancakes?”

“Not particularly.”

Will grins. “Pancakes it is, then.”

Doctor Lecter—and Will should think about calling him Hannibal, now, shouldn’t he?—clenches his jaw, and Will decides he’s being too mean (as if he wouldn’t let the poor Doctor kiss him or whatever he wanted to do, right here, right now), reaches out to smooth the doctor’s lapel like they’re some old married couple already and he’s apologizing for snapping.

“Don’t worry, hun, me being terrifying is gonna be a funny story to tell the kids someday,” he says, and smiles to himself with a ducked head as Doctor Lecter snakes an arm around his waist.

“I’m not thinking that far ahead, Will,” he says, voice low and rough and belying his words.

“Course you are,” Will says. “You were practically shakin’ in your shoes waitin’ to ask me out. Which is sweet, but let’s just see about breakfast first.”

Chapter Text

It is drizzling again, and Chiyoh is in the courtyard, poking absently at an unlucky tadpole that has taken residence in one of the small, scattered puddles with a stick. She wonders if it will survive should the small pond dry up in the coming days, water dripping off the collar of her coat and sticking to her eyelashes. Blinking to clear her vision, she starts as a hand falls to her shoulder, its grip gentle but nonetheless giving no quarter as she struggles to free herself from the almost-cousin at her side.

“Let me go, you idiot,” she starts, and though he pretends he cannot understand when she speaks to her mistress in their mother tongue, his eyes narrow in annoyance, clearly understanding the specifics of her insult.

She has heard Master Robert call him that, across the table from him at dinner, when Hannibal will not answer questions simple as those pertaining to his day. Whenever Robertas goes to town or traveling, however, Hannibal becomes a different person, smiling and charming. But it would be in poor taste to let Robert know exactly what was going on behind the closed doors of his estate, so she leaves it to the future Count and her Lady to sort out how to respond should Robert ever walk in on them at an inopportune time.

Hannibal’s interest in Murasaki alone should make Chiyoh hate him, but her Lady knew exactly what sort of beast she was baiting, and Chiyoh did not have the energy or place to argue. Though she was mature in spirit—and her Lady often said so—she was still a child, and there was little room for the opinions of children in Robertas Lecter’s household.

Best tell your nephew to remember that, she thinks, as Hannibal presents her with the schoolbooks she has already rejected twice this week. Her brief formal education in Japan had also provided her with knowledge of French and English, but she occasionally preferred to act as all the other children in the village did—without worry or care—at least once her duties in service to her Lady had been completed.

“You have skipped lessons twice,” Hannibal reminds, leading her back inside with a hand on her coat, and she huffs. No good reason to behave appropriately if he was going to be such a bore. Just because he was a teenager, he thought he could order her around.

You’re the one trying to force me through more school! she wants to rave, but instead, she crosses her arms and plants her feet, despite the fact that it does little to discourage him from yanking her along.

“You’re highly adept at music, language, and sport, of course. But Uncle thinks it would be wise to expand your education to maths and logic as well.”

She can read well enough between the lines: Uncle thinks it would be a good bonding opportunity.

Chiyoh nearly snorts to herself; she would sooner lay down with a pack of rabid wolves.

She’s honestly counting the days until he leaves for medical school.

“Hannibal,” she says, very solemn, and he kneels down a bit to look her in the eye. The position puts him at an awkward half crouch, and she nearly laughs. “Leave me alone.”

“Chiyoh—,” he says, but she is already racing off, bounding out of the hall, past the courtyard and to the great stretch of open land beyond, uncaring of lessons or Hannibal or whether she gets mud all over her clothes.

She is smart enough without her cousin’s offer of logic or science to determine the best way to scrub them clean.

 

 

 

 

Peter, the boy that she sometimes plays with in the mushroom patch behind his grandparents’ home is smiling at her. But it is not a happy smile, she realizes, seeing fear lingering at the corners of his eyes and mouth.

They are not alone today. There is an older boy—older than Peter but younger than Hannibal—standing to Peter’s left, idly flicking a lighter open and shut.

“This is my brother, Thomas,” Peter says lowly, carefully. “He used to work at the butcher’s in town, but—.”

“Shut up, your girlfriend doesn’t want to hear about that stupid place,” Thomas growls, making as if he is going to smack Peter on the back of the head. Peter flinches, but Thomas draws back at the last second and hits nothing but air.

His laughter at Peter’s expense is a quick, cruel bark that makes Chiyoh’s eye twitch.

“I’m not his girlfriend,” Chiyoh corrects him, tone like ice.

It is clear that Peter does not like his brother, and Chiyoh can understand why.

“Whatever,” Thomas shrugs, pushing Peter towards the stream that runs along the house. “Do you want to see this, girl? There was a flood from the rains, one of those mangy old cats Grandmother keeps got swept away.”

In fact, Chiyoh does not want to see the stream, but leaving Peter alone with Thomas is not a good idea, so she follows as Thomas begins to walk towards the water, a swaying gait that perfectly matches his aggressive bravado. It does not escape her notice that Peter ensures that he keeps himself at Thomas’s back.

“Chiyoh,” he whispers, though the click of Thomas’s lighter silences him.

Lips pulling into a frown, Chiyoh watches what happens next as if in slow motion.

Peter is focused on her, and Thomas uses his brother’s distraction to tug him close by the shirt and toss him into the fast-flowing water.

Sputtering and fighting against the current, Peter manages to grab blindly and get a slippery grip on one of the larger stones that line the edge.

“Let’s see if Grandmother finds your body washed up downstream,” Thomas cackles, reaching for Peter’s wrist to pry him from his handhold.

Chiyoh can’t remember the moment she decided to act, but she finds herself bowling into Thomas’s back, the wind knocked out of her at the impact. She falls to the grass, Thomas tumbling face-first into the rocky bottom, arms and legs scrambling for purchase on solid ground.

Peter exclaims at the splash but crawls gratefully to her side as she holds a hand out to him and pulls with all her might.

Both of them panting on the grass, she listens to the sound of the rushing water and Peter’s hyperventilating breaths.

A wordless roar pierces the air, and she blinks in disbelief as Thomas rises from the water beside their heaving bodies and rights himself. Two of his teeth are missing and a bloody scowl distorts his features as he screeches, “You little shit! I’m going to kill you and your little girlfriend!”

Another, far more innocuous noise, cuts through the racket, and though it is low in volume, the inflection still makes the hairs on the back of Chiyoh’s neck rise.

“I think not.”

Hannibal, she thinks, watching him prowl out of the woods like a jungle cat, oddly colored eyes shining.

Then: Shit, I am in so much trouble.

“Who the fuck are you?” Thomas croaks wetly, clearly not intimidated by the newcomer, who is slim and nonthreatening in the way that most other young people must appear to him.

“Who I am is not important,” Hannibal says, and grabs Thomas by his sodden clothes easily as he had lifted Chiyoh earlier, putting him facedown in the creek as Peter races for his brother and starts to scream as Chiyoh blocks his way.

She holds her friend back, mindlessly shushing his cries as she watches Hannibal.

His forearms are corded with tension, though he ignores Thomas’s desperately flailing hands as if they are nothing more than an insect buzzing about. Kneeling on the soggy ground and ruining his trousers, Hannibal draws Thomas back up for air what seems like an eternity after.

Water pours from Thomas’s mouth as he sobs and gulps for air in turn.

“You should be more courteous to your brother. You only have the one, after all,” Hannibal says, a tutor correcting an unruly pupil, and Chiyoh’s eyes go wide.

So, this is what it means, to meet a monster in human skin.

“T-Thomas, no,” Peter mumbles weakly, though he does not rush to his brother’s side even after Hannibal has released him to flop onto the bank like a beached fish.

“Would you like another dunk to solidify the point,” Hannibal says, not really a question at all, and Thomas shakes his head, something like a whine leaving his throat.

“No! Fuck you, man, fuck,” he spits, rolling away from Hannibal and glancing nervously up at Peter before returning his gaze to the ground.

“This experience should improve his future behavior immensely,” Hannibal says, addressing Peter, who numbly replies, “Um, yes, yes, thank you.”

“Chiyoh,” he says, holding out a muddy palm.

After staring for perhaps a second too long, Chiyoh laboriously gets to her feet and takes it without looking back.

 

 

 

 

“How do you know he won’t just bully him worse now?” she snaps, when they’re halfway finished with the twenty minute trek back home.

“He won’t,” Hannibal says, with such certainty her mouth snaps shut.

(Later, it occurs to her that of course he did not care; he was merely curious what chaos would ensue, and barring that, cared nothing for whatever destruction his actions caused.

One would need a soul, after all, to care, and to Chiyoh, everything that Hannibal was amounted to hunger and greed.)

 

 

 

 

 

Chiyoh sighs at the books that are placed at her elbow the moment she finishes the last of her porridge.

As if the change of venue would be the thing to change her mind about lessons.

Thinking of muddy clothes hidden in the laundry, her Lady’s ignorance at her whereabouts yesterday, and the slightly rotten smell of grass and floodwater, she bites her tongue and heaves the greatest tome open, something written in Latin and something needlessly complicated, she is sure.

Pretending that she does not feel the gentle ruffle of her hair, or the pleased hand at her shoulder, she merely steels herself for the possibility of a very long and very boring day with Hannibal ahead.

Chapter Text

The summer of Will’s seventeenth birthday saw the hottest temperature on record in the Florida Keys, 99 degrees even without the humidity. Hot enough to fry a dozen eggs before dawn.

It should’ve been hellish, but Will loved the sticky, uncomfortable sensation of sweat sliding down his nape, only to evaporate within the minute, leaving trails of salt behind.

By nightfall, he could furtively lick his tanned arms and think of the sea while tasting it on his skin. Endless days of fishing and bartering with old man Beck for engine parts and swimming with a neighbor’s golden retriever named Bubba.

A decade and a half later, it’s only natural he’d come back to the place he felt most at home.

(Too bad the Keys don’t want him anymore than they did up North.)

 

 

 

Hannibal’s flat-out gone the day before their next appointment, and he hears Alana going just short of berserk after he calls, standing outside in the dirty slush outside Hannibal’s empty office building, Gothic façade imposing yet listless without its most intimidating feature.

They’re still sleeping together, that’s clear enough by the naked concern in Alana’s voice that has nothing more to do with fear for his lack of commitment than genuine fear for his life, but her anxiety does little to touch Will’s, for once. He slides down onto the slippery doorstep, its welcome mat sprinkled with tiny ice crystals, uncaring for how it soaks into the seat of his pants. Alana’s still near hysterical on the phone, and it drops from his hand.

He’d found a rag in his living room this morning, that hadn’t been there last week. Usually he recycled t-shirts or old dish towels, but he’d never owned anything that was such a bright red.

It could have been smeared with old grease, but then again—.

Hannibal’s basement door had been unlocked for him to find, three days ago. An honest mistake or a calculated ploy, he doesn’t know, showing up unexpected with a stupid offer and an even stupider truth: Jack did not believe Will’s assertion that Hannibal was the Ripper, but he was launching a quiet investigation anyway, because he had no viable suspects and Hannibal fit the profile.

Better to do your homework than to be sorry later.

Standing there in Hannibal’s kitchen with a newly minted house key (honestly, Will had tried to kill him here before, did the man have a death wish?) and a bottle of cheap wine and no underwear on beneath his worn corduroy pants, he’d expected maybe a long drawn out conversation and a painful lay afterwards. Instead, he’d been lead down into a torture chamber, and then inexplicably led back up, up, and into the monster’s dining room. Not as a flayed and cooked centerpiece, but as a friend.

(Well, they’d gotten rid of his encephalitis, but, Hannibal’s voice whispers still in his head, Mental illness cannot be cured.)

“Oh God,” he trembles, lying there with the frost and Hannibal, wreaking havoc on his imagination, completely in absentia. “What the hell did I do?”

 

 

Despite having a few close and trustworthy friends and more acquaintances than a Vanderbilt, Hannibal isn’t officially reported missing until a week after he’s disappeared.

Bedelia du Maurier, who had walked into the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, who had tugged on Will’s heartstrings with a scrap of belief in his innocence, is the one to call Jack Crawford and tell him that Hannibal has not shown up to his session and that she is worried about his wellbeing.

All of this, she says with the careful laissez faire attitude of a tired spouse who does not think their loved one going missing a considerable loss.

Jack puts holds on Hannibal’s bank accounts (the ones he knows about) and his passport, but no one tries to access any of the money or try to travel using Hannibal’s documents. His credit cards aren’t stolen, his phone won’t ping.

At night, Will swallows half a bottle of convenience store whiskey and a bunch of two ounce vodka shots, tiny containers rattling as he tosses them into the bin with the rest of their erstwhile companions.

He looks at the bloody—fuck, that is blood, he can smell it from here, or is he really going crazy this time—red fabric on his floor, thinks, are those my fingerprints? Is that his blood?

Still at his desk at midnight, Jack Crawford mulls over everything Will Graham has ever said to incriminate Hannibal Lecter, a slew of the Ripper’s victim photos sitting on his desktop, assorted case files spread out across his desk.

He avoids looking at Miriam’s on principle, although he is certain she died—alone, in so much pain—years ago.

He weighs the probability of Hannibal running, how the guilty tend to flee, versus whatever Will is hiding, whether Will was the one to warn him in the first place.

The Ripper did not shy or find threat in police investigation.

There had been no more Ripper murders since Will’s release from prison, since Hannibal’s disappearance.

Jack sits there for hours racking up Quantico’s power bill and getting no closer to a solution than when a bright young recruit had first been called to his office, looked him in the eye and called him “the guru”. She would’ve recently celebrated her fifth anniversary as an agent, and every missing year feels like one cut from Jack’s own life expectancy, and he hopes that’s enough, because it’s too late to offer her anything better.

 

 

Will knows a lot about forensic evidence collection, knows enough to fool most teams, maybe even Price and Zeller.

He would’ve worn gloves, worn clothes less likely to shed fibers, nothing with dog hair on it. Scrubbed the floors, washed down the basement, bleached whatever he could and triple rinsed to remove residue.

“I take the paring knife from its block—There are three microfiber blocks, two on the counter and one on the island, and no one will notice if a single blade is missing. My knife is meant to slice through things that are easy to cut, but in this house, it is kept just as sharp as the cleaver.

“I raise the knife to your throat. I tear through your carotid artery and your jugular vein in homage to the carnage we witnessed when we first met. You appreciate the symmetry, and you smile at me for a long time after you are dead.

“Even after you take your last breath, your eyes are still bright because I am the last thing you wanted to see. I am all the currency you need to pay the ferryman to take you across the River of the Dead.”

(This is not all entirely accurate. Will’s corduroys had been infested with dog hair, and he hadn’t combed his hair in the morning, if there had been a body to find, something would have fallen to incriminate him, but there is no body and Will cannot remember anything after dinner that night. Can’t remember if he’d gone back before dawn and really slit his psychiatrist’s throat.

This is not entirely accurate, he thinks, looking at his doctor’s card and tracing the letters of Hannibal’s name with his index finger, knowing they can’t possibly rearrange to spell the word soulmate, but feeling the implications of it all the same.)

Will didn’t believe in fairy tales, though he realized that sometimes the wolves and witches and murderous gods won. Innocents were savaged, children got eaten, and deities took their sacrifices, whether people wanted them to or not.

That’s a lot what this feels like, he thinks, a helpless captive hanging over a host of saliva-coated teeth, waiting for a great, fabled beast to swallow him whole.

 

 

 

“You should take a vacation, Will. You’re looking…exhausted, more so than usual,” Jack says, does not recommend that it be to a hospital, mental or otherwise. “Come back in a week or two, I’ll have Harvey take over your classes.”

Will doesn’t know if Jack’s really on his side, or if he’s watching to see what Will is going to do, where he goes (if he goes back to the scene of the crime, or, by all luck, to the shallow grave he’s no doubt dug after the crime of passion that is killing one’s psychiatrist. Or maybe Jack thinks he’s a psychopath with a grudge, and premeditation does factor in beyond the stress that Hannibal put him through).

So, Will says a very meaningful and very private fuck you by doing neither, booking a plane ticket to Miami and spending a leisurely morning driving down to the Keys, stopping at every hole in the wall and bait and tackle along the way, appreciating that the quality of every product offered gets better the smaller and outwardly shittier the shops get.

He smells like seafood and rolled cigarettes by the time he makes it past Marathon, drives into Key West reeking of old sweat though it’s barely midday. An old island family who works in hotels is having some kind of private gathering, and the town’s half empty, everyone down at their own private beach, is the explanation he gets when he has to wait half an hour at the Sunset Grove Motel front desk while he waits for the interim manager to stop fucking some poor soul in the backroom.

“You know there’s other places, if you didn’t want to keep ringing the fucking bell,” the boy says, not old enough to drink but old enough to want to.

“You’re the cheapest place,” Will shrugs, and the boy snorts.

When Will opens the door to his room, the AC is blowing hot air in and he sees a flash of dull brown-red on the bedspread, his heart stopping for a moment until he resolves the image fully, probably a menstrual mishap (hopefully not worse) and not the terrible Schrödinger’s cat of forensic evidence still sitting in his living room, either too risky or too much like a trophy to get rid of, even now.

There are palm trees outside of his window, and their fronds tap incessantly at the pane, swaying lazily with the muggy breeze. He tells himself that’s why he doesn’t sleep.

Gets so good at it by midnight that he almost believes it, too.

 

 

 

A bunch of idiots have overfished near the boat ramp, so the bay’s been closed to it for the next few months, and the next best spot is off Key Largo, but Will suddenly doesn’t feel like it, hot sun on his back so familiarly it makes his skin crawl with imagined cold.

Things are the same here, but there’s something fundamentally different about him now, having killed the man he merely meant (but did he?) to trap.

I’m not a hunter, or a fisherman, anymore. All the game’s been had; pond’s dried up, he thinks.

Are you losing your resolve? comes a second voice, unbidden. Are the ends no longer motivating now that the means have proved so difficult?

What ends, he snaps, probably looking half insane sitting there on the deserted boat ramp, cigarette tucked behind his ear, sweating through flannel he’d brought by instinct rather than practicality, glad for the shorts he’d unpacked from the attic before he left, not glad at how pale his legs look floating in strange ripples beneath the water.

Patience is a virtue, Will, he hears, in that voice, and his father’s, too. He remembers a lot of what’s been said throughout his life, but his family, despite him never connecting with the idea of it, provides the dialogue for the most thumbed-through transcript of life lessons he has.

All good things to those who wait.

 

  

“Shit. Two bodies in one weekend. What are the fucking odds,” Will hears the sheriff say, a deputy beside him with a greenish tinge to his skin as they try to keep curious tourists and scowling locals from the restaurant parking lot, another deputy parallel-parking his truck across the driveway to block the way. Hunger having driven him out of the motel for something better than week-old sandwiches and lukewarm bottled drinks, Will is starting to regret his decision.

“Could be drugs,” Will suggests, normally one to keep his head down outside of his jurisdiction but easily seeing they’re in over their heads, teaching instinct coming before propriety. “It’s an easy shot to Cuba, so if you’ve got any usual suspects, I suggest you bring them in.”

He shows his FBI ID to emphasize that he means no harm, he’s just here as a coincidental observer on vacation, and the deputy raises an eyebrow but shakes his hand.

“Uh, ME’s not here yet, but I think it might be a little more personal than that,” the sheriff says, stepping away to give Will a better view of what had initially just been the impression of a thick spill of blonde hair, splayed legs, and a discarded apron with the restaurant logo poorly drawn in silver Sharpie. “Her heart’s missing.”

Suddenly, Will doesn’t give a shit about any of that, because, tucked in the girl’s limp hand is a very familiar piece of red fabric, smeared with blood that’s definitely fresh.

Will knows there’s nothing but empty air at his back, the small crowd having dispersed when the second deputy had gotten out of his truck to shoo them away, but he doesn’t want to turn around at the prickle on his nape, too afraid of what he’ll see.

A bead of sweat slips down Will’s spine, leaving a trail of salt behind.

Chapter Text

She appears to him for the first time since he’d caught half-glimpses of her haunting the halls of his adolescent nightmares the day he meets Will Graham.

While flight arrangements are being made by a government clerk he will never meet, he is quietly rescheduling patients in preparation to play objective, third-party observer in Minnesota. A highly paid babysitter for Jack Crawford’s well-intentioned and likely futile search for the Shrike.

Would he be help or hindrance, Graham had asked him in Crawford’s office. Interested in catching a kidnapper and murderous cannibal, or more so in Graham himself?

Heels clicking, she steps into his office and his thoughts like she owns the right to both. Looking on her for the first time in decades, he supposes he owes these few concessions to the woman who gave him life.

“Finally, someone turns your head. But this one is perhaps more dangerous than the others,” she observes, with a judgmental purse of her mouth.

“No more than the others,” he challenges, for the danger lies in how Will Graham will respond to him when he first sees him for what he is, rather than the mere possibility of being discovered. With time, Hannibal can turn this danger into potential for understanding. “I can be careful with him. He may not even blame me in the aftermath of whatever I choose to do to him.”

“No,” she says, voice cutting. “You will blame yourself. It has been a long time since you have loved someone, and your skills of self-expression—unlike your talents for deception—have not improved.”

Absentmindedly fondling a pen on his otherwise impeccable desk, he allows himself a polite scoff.

“I am intrigued by him. That is all. I can hardly see myself developing any form of affection in the thirty seconds it took for him to berate his superior for agreeing to meet with me.”

Taking a seat on the sofa between the two ukiyo-e along the far wall, his mother completes quite a scene. Some painful amalgamation of the two most defining parts of his life, and he is momentarily struck speechless by the juxtaposition.

“Did it take more than a few instants—first, for you to envy that she replaced you at my breast, then not a few more to decide that you loved her anyway—to feel affection for your sister the moment I placed her in your arms?”

His mother wears Chanel today, in suit and scent, with towering Jimmy Choos on her feet. It is a fairly lethal combination, causing her to appear almost more paramour than parent, the horrible circumstances of life never having granted her the opportunity to age.

“No,” he says slowly, flattening his lips.

“Then you must be cautious, darling,” she entreats, suddenly perched atop his desk, her smooth thigh bumping his forearm as she shifts to grip his hand. “The gods love mortals because they are beautiful and innocent, but men made of clay will wither and shatter beneath the force of a god’s love.”

“Turned to dust like Semele before Zeus,” he sighs, turning to face her fully, feeling her sweet breath on his ear.

“Will you risk it nonetheless?”

“I am not a god,” he frowns, with more consternation than he would have permitted of himself in public. “And Will Graham is hardly innocent.”

“Oh, Hannibal,” she sighs, just short of chiding. “Why are you so sure I was afraid for him?”

Vanishing before he can blink, she leaves him with nothing more, and he inhales deeply, chasing the scent of her perfume.

Not twenty-four hours later, kneeling in a room full of chaos and gunpowder, gazing upon a blood-drenched Will Graham, Hannibal realizes he now knows exactly what she means.

 

 

 

He is sitting in an otherwise empty room at eight on a Tuesday night, the clock’s steady rapport and the fire’s irritatingly joyful crackling his only company.

She appears again in the chair opposite his—Will’s chair, as he does not see any other patient sitting in it within the confines of his mind—with two tumblers of scotch in her hands.

Her nail polish is white today, he notices, and she rises to hand him one of the glasses.

“Feeling alone, darling?” she simpers, an I told you so clear in her tone.

He raises an eyebrow, but his somberness softens at the recollection of her enveloping embrace, her skill at stitching his fingers whenever he had a mishap with a knife.

Will Graham has been confined to the halls of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for two weeks, and nothing save a lonely house awaits him, a single filet made from the thigh of a greedy investment banker a companion to last night’s strangely flavorless, single-serving dinner.

“I don’t recall asking your advice on the matter, mother,” he says, her answering smile sad rather than offended as she deposits her own glass on the table next to him, touching his cheek with the cold pads of her fingers.

“I’m sorry, love,” she says, “but I really only say what you tell me to.”

Reaching for her hand—too late, too late, his mind chants, incessantly building like a levee about to burst—he tries to convey a belated apology, but instead of meeting cool skin, his hand closes on open air.

Chapter Text

From this height, hitting the water is like hitting concrete, splintering every bone on impact.

The surface, rock bottom, it doesn’t matter—The Atlantic’s dark, cold, and familiar, and he slips so deep into the sea he doesn’t know which way is up.

 

 

 

It’s dark in this shitty motel room; the blackout curtains doing their job for once, only a tiny sliver of light beneath the door and peeking from between moldy fabric and a grimy window ledge.

Will sneezes awake, whatever pain caused him to go under a distant memory now. Nothing more than a tingle of scratchiness in his throat hinting at the weakened immune system that’ll soon spell full blown encephalitis if he doesn’t get himself a doctor that’s not a self-absorbed egomaniac interested in watching the progression of a rare disease rather than abiding by the Hippocratic Oath.

If wishes were horses, he thinks to himself, sweating from a forgotten dream. Still in boxers and a too-tight t-shirt, which he sheds quickly, searching for less soggy replacements, remembering, This is how you meet me, when we’re alone for the first time.

The casual disregard for the propriety of a chaperone like an invitation, the tinkle of cutlery like wedding bells.

I don’t like being alone with people who want to study me, except for when I’m playing subject with you.

There’s no causal explanation for this room or this impossible repeat in time save an as-yet unexplained caveat of universal entropy: that somehow, the stars aligned and a cycle restarted, that this plane was the natural outcome of the last, in which one thing could have happened differently. Hopefully this time, it will end well.

Two polite knocks at the door, then a pause, waiting for Will’s response. Seemed he had spent half his life in Baltimore waiting, but Will wasn’t going to leave him at the altar this time.

“You’re not Jack,” he says upon opening the door, his brain racing too fast to think of anything else, raw joy effusing his expression in a way that probably shocks the man he had so rudely rebuffed in front of his boss not forty-eight hours before.

“Deposed in court, I’m afraid,” Hannibal says, already pushing middle age but looking so young that it takes Will aback for a moment. Only traces of what will soon be a solid gut, more brunet than grey in his hair, a spring in his step that the coming months and agonizing over a casual-amusement-cum-lover would slowly kill.

Hannibal’s eerie red-brown eyes track him through the gloom, Will dipping his head to the soft black outline of the man he loves in the doorway, the overwhelming light casting the monster in shadow as he waits patiently on the front stoop.

“Come in,” Will says, leaving the door thrown wide, pointedly not reaching for his night bag or any of its more modest contents, content to flaunt himself in fresh boxers and a threadbare t-shirt for an intrigued gaze that seems too hungry for polite company, much less for someone he’s just met. “You made food? That’s sweet.”

Hannibal’s mouth opens a sliver, and Will notices the negative space that the movement leaves, thinks about filling it with his tongue, eyes downcast to the floor as he decides they’ve danced around this almost-intimacy long enough. He wants the real thing, and by God, he was going to make the first move.

“Minnesota’s modest culinary offerings are comforting in their own ways, but I prefer to bring a bit of my home with me on short jaunts like these,” Hannibal says, tugging the curtains open a hair, setting his things down on the tiny excuse for a dining room table.

“Don’t,” Will whispers, tentatively laying his fingers on Hannibal’s knuckles, stalling against letting more light into the room. Too much light even now; he realizes Hannibal’s left knuckles are slightly swollen, his index finger bruised.

Cassie Boyle had fought back, had used the last of her life’s breath to leave this small mark that would heal in a few days, all of her amounted to a burst capillary beneath Hannibal’s skin.

“Would you prefer to be fed in the dark?” Hannibal smiles, eyes shimmering, nonetheless infallible in his spatial awareness in the dimness, unpacking utensils and plates, Will hearing the metallic clack of a thermos and its ceramic cups.

He couldn’t reach for one and drop it on a carpeted floor; it wouldn’t have the desired effect. But how could he tell Hannibal what had just happened? How could he let him know he knew?

The scent of still-warm meat and eggs so fluffy they’d spilled from Will’s plate, sweet peppers the color of blood.

Hannibal doesn’t reach for a plate for himself this time either (was he shy?), but takes it upon himself to serve Will, forking the contents of an insulated bowl onto Will’s. A bit of sausage clings to the prongs of the fork, and before he can hand over the utensil, Will leans forward, capturing the sliced meat between his teeth.

“Did you use her brain, or liver? Kidneys, maybe, or all three?” he asks, chewing delicately as possible to appeal to the interested stranger across from him, sprawled out across the opposite chair.

Hannibal doesn’t even blink.

“Either way,” Will adds, enjoying the role he’d dipped his toes into at the bluff by the sea. Coquette. Leverage. The devil’s due. “It’s delicious.”

Putting his back to the wall is tactically undesirable against a predator like Hannibal, who will see this as the indefensible maneuver of a cornered animal, but he hopes that Hannibal doesn’t miss the implication.

I don’t mind being cornered by you.

Still, Will would prefer them on equal ground—he’s learned his lesson about the cruelties of Hannibal choosing to play with his food.

Rising to walk back to the shadowed bed and its pungent, still-warm blankets, he smooths the comforter and sets himself down. Pats a flat palm on the space next to him, smirk lost to the darkness, but maybe not to Hannibal’s eyes.

“Come sit. I don’t bite,” he says, adding a bit of syrupy Southern drawl. 

“It’s not you I’m concerned about, my dear,” Hannibal replies, each of his lean muscles ready to pounce if Will shows any indication of retaliating against a man he’s clearly just accused of being a cannibal. Still, letting the endearment slip, no doubt wanting to say something like it from across Jack’s desk, just to get him riled.

“I learned that about you a long time ago, and it’s not a turn-off. Believe me,” Will says, opening his legs, toes curling as Hannibal sits gingerly on the comforter that’s probably got twenty years of old come stains on it.

“And how would you know. We’ve just met.”

“I’ve been puzzling over your kills for what feels like a lifetime. You’ve been puzzled over me for the past fifty hours, which is a lifetime for someone who doesn’t give most other people a second thought if it isn’t part of the performance.

“You couldn’t get me out of your head, jumped at the opportunity to take Jack’s place today.”

In four hours or less, Abigail Hobbs will lie on a spotted linoleum floor with her throat cut, but this time, Will won’t choke when he presses his hand against her throat to keep everything in.

Hannibal pets his ankle like he’s absentmindedly stroking one of Will’s better-behaved dogs, and Will shivers, goosebumps at the touch of Hannibal’s skin on his own. They’ve known each other for seven years, and he can count on one hand the number of times they’ve been this close.

“More than an empathy disorder,” Hannibal says, with a sad glint in his eyes that means he’s about to hurt Will irreparably, curious enough to keep him alive but not enough to risk him being able to squeal to Jack.

Of course, this may remove the ability for him to ever suss out how will Knows what he knows, but this is an acceptable risk. Anyone else that claimed to know the Ripper’s secrets would have died choking on their own blood had they not worn Will Graham’s face.

Fuck it, Will thinks. Jack told me to say please, damn him if he could judge me for this.

Tipping his head up, he catches Hannibal’s mouth with his own, the honey trap four years too late, realized at last.

Hannibal stills, his Otherness bleeding to the fore. Everything stopped: breathing, movement, murderous intent, until he decides, the same as he would always decide, gripping Will’s mandible with his inhuman strength.

Will’s expecting it, but he still cries out as Hannibal bites town, tearing a small chunk out of his lower lip.

I’ll need stitches later—Will laughs to himself, thinking of his newly smooth cheek, only to be replaced with another wound—if Hannibal does let him have a later.

(If he’d come back once, he’d come back again, and he’d try, over and over, to get Hannibal to See.)

What are you,” Hannibal growls, his guttural breath warm on Will’s cheek, copper and iron and Cassie Boyle’s last breaths.

“Yours,” Will smiles, cocooned in the darkness, but he knows Hannibal’s watching for every deception anyway. A sudden lunge, a tremble in his voice.

Hannibal makes a sound like a wounded bear, confused and greedy at the scent of a felled deer, waiting to be butchered.

But Will’s no helpless buck; he knows he can gore with his antlers as well as anything with claws.

 

 

 

The popcorn ceiling doesn’t look so bad from this angle, Will chuckles to himself. Sore and still half-exhausted, Hannibal settled on top of him like a great warm wolf, marking his claim.

“In an hour, I’ll drive us to an address on Brighton Lane, the other side of town. The Shrike will be there, cooking breakfast for his family. I won’t have my gun in plain sight, but he might spook.”

“He’ll try to kill them before you can start asking questions.”

Hannibal’s talking directly into his ear, humid and heady and less disgusting than Will thought it could feel, twined so closely to another person they could share the same morning breath.

(With Molly, they never woke up at the same time. Him, too early to take care of the dogs, her a half hour later, to take care of Wally.)

“Go for his daughter first. Abigail. Dark hair, light eyes, like the rest of them. You’ll…You’ll probably fall for her as soon as you see her.” Gulp, measured glance upward, to where Hannibal is studying him with some odd combination of calculated curiosity and sentimental wonder. “You told me she reminded you of Mischa.”

The name means both pain and pleasure, and proof of his place within the inner sanctum of Hannibal’s consideration, and Hannibal accepts Will’s knowledge of his most intimate sorrows with a slight incline of his head.

“I have not spoken of my sister in a very long time.”

Will swallows again. “We didn’t talk about her at length, but you told me enough. You—You did something to hurt me, badly, but I thought about Mischa and what she meant and—.”

“And I forgave you.”

“Yes,” Will hisses out the word before he can be kissed again, an affirmation, an acknowledgment, a new chance.

“Abigail,” Hannibal says, after, testing the name.

Their alone time is up, if Will follows the course of the day as it once happened before, but there is no reason Hobbs might think anyone is looking for him, any more than the sporadic news media coverage will indicate. Will does not have to worry about the repercussions of missing Hannibal calling the Shrike as a professional courtesy, because Hannibal is miles away from thinking about phone calls or anything besides Will.

“She will never be free from scrutiny, by Uncle Jack or by the public at large. It would be entirely suspicious, but entirely appropriate, that I be the first to offer treatment once her father is dead.”

“Or,” Will grins, still nuzzling and accepting butterfly kisses Hannibal insists on pressing to his face between words, “We could take her and go to Florence. Naples. Budapest. Paris. She could go to school. Learn how to cook and fish and everything she’d need to know. She’d be loved.”

It’s an entirely selfish plan, and not unlike the treatment Hobbs had subjected her to. Forcing a reality that was never meant to exist, but Will could only believe that their version of parenthood would have twisted intentions with less life-threatening outcomes. She would hunt, or she wouldn’t, but she’d always be theirs.

The girl who had once again bled to death in the lobby of the Capella Palatina would be brought to life again: whole and beautiful, wearing her floral scarf out of ornamentation, not necessity.

“You seem to have this all planned out, my dear.”

“Would you believe me if I told you every version of what’s supposed to happen today was your idea?”

Hannibal smiles softly, eyes crinkling.

“We’ll kill the Shrike. Incapacitate the mother. I haven’t prepared for anything longterm, but Abigail could be made docile, at least for now, using over the counter pharmaceuticals.”

“But after she comes around, she’ll be hungry.”

Garrett Jacob Hobbs would simply disappear off the face of the earth. Kill the little birdie, and they’d swoop in to offer help. A new family. A fresh start.

“Her fathers will be ready to provide,” Hannibal says, expectant as the tempting serpent, certain as the shifting tides.

I love you, Will says in silence, baring his throat, pressing against skin free of scars and breaks and brands, creating some of his own, their bodies rising and falling in shadow and half-light.

 

 

 

Uncle Jack’s teacup is fragile, but clumsy hands trying to tip it don’t succeed. In this universe, it teeters on the edge and doesn’t break.

“Garrett Jacob Hobbs?” Will asks, Abigail at the door.

“Dad,” she calls. “I think it’s for you.”

Chapter Text

 

Honey’s Mom really needs to take a chill pill, in her opinion.

Divorced for three months, and already gone through twice as many boyfriends, and poor old Mister Graham, the boat mechanic from Decatur or wherever is her next target.

“His son, Willy, well Billy’s always saying he’s lonely, Hon. You should hang out with him this weekend. At least for Halloween.”

If her mom could keep it in her pants for two seconds, Honey might consider it, but then it would lead to her mother thinking she could get away with stuff—like asking for things and them actually happening—so it wouldn’t be a good idea to set a precedent.

Picking at the infected scab on her knee, Honey hums, pretending to consider.

Well, at least Will Graham wouldn’t be afraid of going out into the forest to collect bugs in mason jars, or complain about how the humidity affected his hair, how her mother would. They might actually have some fun together, though Will wore glasses. He wouldn’t be able to keep up with her if he was half-blind.

“Please, Honey, you’d be doing me a big favor,” her mother pouts, wearing some new cherry-flavored lip-gloss nonsense, hoping to appeal to the part of Billy Graham that wants to screw around with an old lady dressed like she thinks she’s still a high school cheerleader.

“Fine,” she huffs, praying that Graham won’t be another one who has the clap. If she has to hear her mom complain about the state of her urinary tract one more time, she’ll run away and never come back.

 

 

 

Billy Graham doesn’t look anything like the famous pastor—not as clean cut, anyway, his living room couch covered in plastic, cigarette butts scattered across every free surface. Their tiny, tornado-bait house smells like fake air freshener, and Honey sneezes wetly into her shirt sleeve five seconds in.

“Nice place,” she lies, not waiting for either of the adults to tell her to find Will, because she knows he’ll be in the backyard, digging up stuff from the ground or reading a book or anything else someone not preoccupied with getting laid would be doing in a backyard. Walls were too thin inside for him to be doing anything else.

The brown patches of grass and dirt behind the house aren’t any more appealing than the moldy rooms her mom and Mr. Graham were currently defiling, but the only noise was the low buzz of a few stray mosquitoes and a few lonely bird calls. The whole of it would dissolve into the loud chatter of nocturnal animals and the hum of cicadas as dusk fell, but for now, Honey could handle a bit of awkward small talk between herself and the only classmate she had never exchanged more than a handful of words with.

Graham always sat in the back, though Billy Colt had peeked at his paper once, in desperation, and found Graham had already finished the test, only three minutes in.

“Hey, Will,” she calls, balancing on the gnarled edge of a dead tree root, perching on a nearby stump. Looking down at her feet, she catches movement out of the corner of her eye, and her head flies up, quickly enough to give her whiplash.

Will’s surrounded by a horde of butterflies and swarming beetles, their shells shimmering the same odd rainbow ripples that motor oil makes in water. A moth the size of her open palm flaps its wings close to her ear, and she jumps.

“Geezus,” she screeches. “What the heck have you got there?”

A loud footfall, out there in the dark line of foliage behind Graham, like a big tree being felled.

“Oh, that’s just Hannibal. He thought it’d be funny to bring them all here, since I asked about a monarch that flew away too quick for me to see it proper.”

Before she can even open her mouth to ask—What kinda name is Hannibal?—she gets her answer. Feels the heat of hellfire, sees the abyss, smells the stink of dead things, stronger than she’s ever smelt it, even after her father had skinned and dumped that gator carcass to rot in the swamp back at their old house.

The light seeps out of the afternoon, and a huge horned creature steps out into the clearing, Honey hyperventilating at the unbidden trickle of tears down her cheeks. She wants to run, but all she can do is tremble in place and hope she doesn’t piss herself.

Just as she’s about to lose control of her bladder, the darkness shrinks to the shape of an almost-man. Skin blacker than tar, with a stag’s big rack of antlers sprouting from a bald skull with a heavy brow. Claws and hooves, and ugly as sin.

“He’s what the Southern Baptist Church might call ‘Satan’,” Will explains, easy as pie, as the God’s honest devil—or whatever he is, Jesus, what is that thing—lets a bright orange butterfly perch on the end of his talon, hands it to Will, whose eyes widen in silent wonder at the flap of little wings in his face.

“Uh,” Honey manages, finally, voice cracking. “Um, I lied to my mom. I said—I said I didn’t wanna hang out with you, but I did it anyway, so she could have…alone time…with your dad.”

“Whaddaya mean you lied?” Will asks, handing the butterfly off to her, though her shaking hands don’t keep it long. She watches as it flies off, so she won’t have to look the devil hovering over Will’s shoulder in the eye.

“I meant, I thought I was gonna be bored, tying fishing lures all day or diggin’ up worms,” she smiles, just as another beetle plops itself down on her still outstretched hand.

 

 

 

“So, do you have a costume yet?” she asks, pushing over her carrot sticks as Will trades her his fruit gummies.

Shouldn’t trust a kid who doesn’t like sweets, but Honey sort of has no choice, otherwise Will sics his best friend on her and she’s doomed to an eternity of writhing a painful eternity of agony in hell.

“I don’t—Well, I sort of have this thing about Halloween,” Will murmurs, not saying anything else, like she’s supposed to read his mind.

“You don’t like getting the shit scared out of you? Or you just don’t like all the creepy masks and stuff?”

He frowns at her, as if she’s missed the punchline of a joke, and she shrugs.

“Okay, fine, I’m guessing that means no, you don’t have one. Mrs. Hudson says there’s a fifty-dollar prize for best costume and best group costume at the assembly on Friday.” Which is a joke of a “competition”, because their school is about a hundred kids, on a good day, but still, they could pull anything off with the devil in their back pocket.

“I don’t wanna,” Will sighs. “Already pretend enough as it is.”

“What do you mean by that?” she pouts, unused to not getting her way.

Will outright scowls as he reaches into his lunchbox for a napkin, pulls out another fresh packet of fruit snacks, like magic. For all she knows, it probably is.

“Does he watch you like that, all the time? Say, you need extra change for a burger, or your dad gets pulled over for speeding.”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

“So how does it work, then?”

He opens his mouth, readying to answer, when he stops himself short.

“I dunno,” he murmurs, shrugging and begrudgingly tearing open the packet of gummies in his hand. “I dunno, just does.”

 

 

 

Their little town’s called Fern Acres, but Honey’s never seen ferns or much acreage for sale, the same fifteen families owned up most of the land since the Civil War and not about to sell anytime soon. Neither she or Will have been here very long, but this is the most fun she’s had here so far, walking arm-in-arm with Will’s Extremely Unhappy face, covered in fake-blood ketchup and thick white makeup, Hannibal chaperoning both of them, hooves clopping heavily on the pavement.

Will carries both of their heavy baskets, already filled to the brim with stolen candy from a bowl outside Mrs. Daniels’s, and shifts hers to his opposite hand so he can open a packet of mini-Twizzlers, spitting out the wrapper onto the ground.

Hannibal’s taloned hand shoots out before Will can bite into the candy, and plucks a sewing needle out from the middle of it, Honey cringing at the sight.

“Did she think people wouldn’t notice it was her put the needles in? I guess so, that’s why she didn’t wanna answer the door. Well, she hates kids most days, a holiday wouldn’t change that.”

“I’ll be able to change her mind,” Hannibal says, and the hissing sound of it settles restlessly in Honey's ribs. It’s not just her imagination that time freezes for a moment, everyone on the street held in some temporary silence—even the littlest kids, screaming and giggling gone quiet—some craning their necks, their eyes fearfully skating over the dark void cast by Hannibal’s shadow.

Will shoves the baskets into Honey’s hands and launches himself towards Hannibal’s middle, throwing his arms around the creature and clinging to him like a baby. Honey, who hasn’t seen Will reach out to touch anyone—even his own father—tries to reconcile the image with the sullen, downcast boy she knows and has seen wandering the halls alone these past few months.

“Please, don’t hurt anyone tonight. Just…this is the one night we can be ourselves, can we just have a nice night?”

Hannibal makes a sound close to a snort.

“You do realize that part of my nature is to kill and eat your kind,” he says, and Honey shivers. Doesn’t sound much like a joke, if it is one.

Will gestures for Honey to toss the contents of their buckets into one of the trash cans scattered along the street, dumping Mrs. Daniels’s contaminated stuff with it. Honey frowns at the smiling jack-o-lantern face of her now lighter candy basket.

“Some of that candy could’ve been good,” she protests. “Now we’ve gotta start all over, and Mom’s gonna be on me about being home by nine.”

Will laughs and runs off with his own empty basket, grinning stupidly and showing his ketchup-smeared face to a group of kids that squeal and scatter, Honey watching him, unimpressed.

“Does he know he's the only friend you've got?” she asks Hannibal, who is wearing an unnervingly fond look that sort of seems like the way good parents look at their kids on TV, when they're ruffling their hair or packing their lunches or doing all the things Honey's never had anyone to do for her.

“He is a child without any other friends,” Hannibal says, eventually, picking her up like nothing, narrowly avoiding a deep pothole that probably would’ve twisted her ankle. As much as she resents being manhandled, she’s grateful Mom won’t have another thing to go off about when she finishes sucking face with Billy.

“Yeah, that doesn’t answer my question. And I resent you sayin' that. I'm his friend," she says, the words flying from her mouth despite the fact that a month ago, she wouldn't have given poor, weird Will Graham a second glance.

“Are you,” Hannibal says evenly, his smirk disturbingly full of teeth, and Honey rolls her eyes.

What a creep.

She’d always thought Will Graham was weird, but—go figure—Hannibal-the-devil was in a league completely of his own.