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...And This One is Just Right

Chapter Text

“Goodnight Dr. Graham!”

“’G’Night. Drive safe,” Will called back as his favorite tech-in-training waved and walked towards her car, the only one left in the lot beside his. He watched her get in and head off, then pulled the front door of his veterinary clinic closed behind him, locking both deadbolts.

It had been a long day, and he’d been glad to have Abigail with him for evening cleanup. She was a good kid: enthusiastic, reliable, and not the least bit squeamish. Which was more than he could say for a few of his actual techs. She would be graduating high school in a few months, and he knew she’d be asking for a recommendation letter to veterinary school soon. He actually already had it typed up on his laptop, and had been taking her along on house calls to surrounding farms so she could get some experience with larger animals. Every little advantage counted in their extremely competitive field since less than half of the applicants were accepted at veterinary colleges. Will had been lucky enough to learn a lot from his father— who was always fixing up animals when he wasn’t fixing boat motors— and he had gotten into school on his own skills and no connections. Abigail could probably do the same, but it wouldn’t hurt if he paid a visit to the campus in Virginia to drum up some support from a few of his old teachers. He liked Abigail, and the fact that he was willing to be sociable on her behalf said a lot about his faith in her becoming a great vet. Maybe even great enough to have her name under his on the sign out front someday.

As he mulled over Abigail Hobbs’ future and his role in it, Will walked through the rooms of the clinic, turning off lights and checking locks, finally turning to the few occupied cages with animals staying for overnight care. Winston and Zoe—his two canine “volunteers” for the night—watched him from their beds next to the cot where he’d be sleeping. He checked each overnight guest carefully, ending with the two newborn pups that had been left in a box on the clinic doorstep only a few days ago. Their eyes were still closed, and their vulnerable, pink little bodies were snuggled deep in blankets. They seemed to sense his presence and raised their muzzles towards him.

“Hey guys, you comfy?”

A few squeaks and yawns were the only reply, and Will smiled and checked the time: two more hours until their next bottle feeding, and then an attempt at sleep. Carefully, he lifted the bundle of pups from the cage and carried them to the cot. He settled in with them on his lap, his back against the wall, letting the older dogs nose at the new arrivals. He hoped he would be able to adopt them out. He really couldn’t take any more on himself—at least he shouldn’t. His pack of seven was already too many. Then again, who would it really bother? It wasn’t like there was anyone else back home to protest against the additions to the pack.

For a while, Will sat back and read through some articles on new veterinary medicine techniques, a single earbud in as Clapton serenaded him towards an uncommonly easy sleep. He felt his eyes growing heavy, and his jaw ached from fighting off yawns. Just as he was contemplating feeding the pups early so he could chase this rare opportunity for some actual rest, he heard it. It was faint at first, just a soft metallic scratching, a jiggle of the doorknob from the side door. His entire body tensed and his mind sped down several different paths. He wasn’t all that surprised that someone was trying to break in. Veterinary clinics were robbed all the time for drugs, though this would be the first time it had happened to him. But as he listened closer, rising as slowly and quietly as possible from the cot, he assessed the situation and decided this intruder was not likely after the drugs. They had to have been waiting for some time, had probably watched him see Abigail off, saw the doors being locked, and then bided their time until they thought him asleep. They most definitely knew he was inside, so Will’s medical knowledge was probably what they were really after.

He got to his feet as he heard the click of the first lock, and after depositing the pups on the cot and signaling for Winston and Zoe to get underneath it, Will edged towards the door, heading for the receptionist desk and the shotgun that was secured on a rack beneath it. He’d never had reason to use it at the clinic before, and he’d always vainly hoped it would remain that way. But here he was, breaking open the double barrel to insert two shells, closing it just as the side door swung open on quiet hinges. He heard the soft tread of feet coming down the side hall as he stood hidden behind the door frame, and only when he heard a whine from Winston did he sweep around the corner and into the room. He trained the gun onto the intruder, a middle-aged man in a gray, blood-spattered jumpsuit and prison issue slip-ons. He was also aiming a pistol in Will’s direction, an amused smile on his face, eyes dark and intense, though he was shivering slightly.

“Dr. Graham, I presume,” he drawled, cocking his head just slightly as he looked Will up and down.

“What do you want?”

“Oh, just a little checkup, nothing much. Sorry to just waltz on in, but it seems I missed your office hours.”

Will fought the urge to sigh. This guy was definitely an escaped prisoner from the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The hospital was about three miles up the highway, a hulking and haunted looking place that Will passed almost daily. He could barely make out the B-1104-0 printed on the jumpsuit under all the blood stains. There was a soft pattering sound, and Will’s eyes darted to the floor where drops of blood were starting to pool at the man’s feet.

“I seem to have been shot. Hunting accident, you could say. I was hoping I could count on a fellow medical professional for some assistance. Seems I can’t quite reach, you know?”

There was something so infuriatingly smarmy about the man that Will found himself feeling more annoyed by his presence than afraid.

“You don’t exactly fit my clientele,” Will said, watching the man’s lips spread into a grin. “I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave the way you came. I think there’s a hospital just down the road.”

A deep chuckle resounded in the room, and the man took another few steps closer, his gait just the slightest bit unsteady. Now with more light, Will could see a gunshot wound in his lower left abdomen, nothing immediately life threatening, but it had to hurt like hell. The man showed no outward signs of pain, which led Will to assume he was a special kind of crazy—the kind with no fear.

“And I’m afraid I’ll have to insist.”

The intruder cocked the pistol and held it steadily on Will who stared right back, his own finger hovering over the trigger of the shotgun. There was a long silence in which they sized each other up; Will’s heart was racing, but he kept his breathing slow and calm, doing his best not to show any signs of weakness to what was clearly a predator.

“You don’t seem too inclined by a polite request,” the escapee sighed eventually, sounding almost disappointed.

“We have different definitions of polite.”

“You don’t seem too concerned about the gun in your face either.”

“I could say the same for you. You should really be the one concerned—I’m not as likely to miss at this range.”

The man considered him, some of the devious amusement fading from his eyes, his teeth grinding with impatience.

“Maybe I’m not aiming in the right direction then.”

And before Will could predict his next move, the man had the gun trained on the cot where all of the dogs were. A lump formed in Will’s throat at the sight of them being threatened, and his jaw ached as he bit back a curse. He’d lost the upper hand, and he was even more annoyed now. This wasn’t going to end cleanly.

“Alright. I’m going to lower my gun, and then I’m going to put it on the floor and slide it to you. When you get it, you’re going to lower your gun and leave my dogs out of this.”

The man nodded in agreement, and Will did exactly as promised, and when the pistol was finally aimed back at him, he let out a long breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. He pushed his glasses back up his nose and nodded toward the exam table.  

“Take that off and get on.”

“Oh, I like where this is going,” he replied in a sickeningly flirtatious drawl that made Will openly grimace.

“Shut up and sit down already.”

The man actually managed to follow instructions quietly as Will gathered supplies and suited up in gloves and a gown. The jumpsuit revealed a somewhat pudgy upper body, but Will could see old strength in there, just beneath the padding. He was probably not going to be able to physically overpower this guy, and now he had both guns. Not an ideal scenario, but he was also not the one in danger of slowly bleeding to death if he didn’t get help. There was no one else with medical experience around for miles, and if it were possible for the escapee to patch himself up on his own, Will would already be dead. So he wasn’t expendable, at least not yet. He wasn’t going to let things get to that point though. All he needed was an opportunity.

“Dr. Graham, what a charming little clinic you have here,” the man said conversationally as Will started to examine the entrance and exit wounds. He nodded towards the cot. “Is this home as well?”

“Occasionally,” Will answered, though every part of him didn’t want to engage with this guy any more than he had to. But needs must. “Hard to find good help, sometimes I have to stay myself.”

“Better you than that pretty young thing I saw earlier. Yours?”

“No, but we get that a lot,” Will shrugged. He and Abigail shared the same complexion, both brunettes with blue eyes. Some clients assumed she was his daughter and Will had stopped bothering to correct them. It had only been a few months since she’d stopped bothering, too.  

“Is there a Mrs. Graham?” the man asked as Will threaded a needle to close the entrance wound. He knew the man wouldn’t accept anesthetic if he offered, so he didn’t bother. “Or a Mr.?”

Will fought the urge to roll his eyes and looked up just above the rim of his glasses, softening his face as much as possible despite how badly he wanted to shove his finger in the bullet hole and watch this creep squirm.

“No, just me. And them,” he added with a glance towards the dogs, the pups now squeaking impatiently as they tumbled around on the cot, searching for a mother they’d never find. “Not much time for anyone else, you know?”

“Oh, do I ever,” the man chuckled. “I’m a single man myself. Self-made.”

Will’s mouth twitched, and he fought back a laugh at how ridiculous this situation was: this genius had broken out of a mental institution, walked three miles in the cold, waited who knows how long for the right time to break in, threatened Will’s dogs, and now was flirting with him by bragging about killing his spouse? And who knows how many other people? Did he really think that was going to work? If so, he really did belong in that damn hospital.

“Is that what you were in for?”

“Amongst other things. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? Dr. Abel Gideon, friendly neighborhood Chesapeake Ripper at your service.”

A chill did go down Will’s spine at those words, even though his mind fought to keep his expression steady. If this man wasn’t lying, Will didn’t just have a crazy spouse-killing escapee on his table: he had a bona fide serial killer of the highest order. Though Will hardly kept up with the news— he rarely watched TV or listened to the radio— he knew who the goddamn Chesapeake Ripper was. He couldn’t quite hide the tremble in his hands as he bent and started his first stitch, his eyes darting up to Dr. Gideon’s arrogant, gloating face.

“Pleasure,” Will choked out, his voice cracking ever so slightly as he started to rethink his plan to get himself—and the dogs—out of this situation alive.

“Pleasure is all mine, I’m sure” Gideon drawled again, looking satisfied at Will’s barely hidden nervousness. His frame relaxed as he watched the stitching with clear approval. “Very nice. Should hardly scar at all.”

Will didn’t reply this time, concentrating instead on just getting the job done so he could start on the exit wound in his back, where he’d have more opportunity. Silence was also a display of submission, and it seemed to be working; Gideon was looking him over with renewed interest, and Will could see his hands squeeze the grips of both the shotgun and pistol just barely, as if he was debating on letting go of one to touch him. While it would be a perfect opening if he did, Will was praying he wouldn’t have to be molested by the Chesapeake Ripper to survive the night.

“How did you break out? They have that hospital locked down tighter than Fort Knox. I’ve never heard of anyone escaping before. Never would have built here if there had been.”

“The esteemed Dr. Chilton tends to be a tad self-absorbed during our little mandatory chats. And he has an affinity for very fine pens, with all sorts of sturdy, useful parts inside. I’m sure you can imagine the rest.”

“You…um, y-you killed to get out, didn’t you? This isn’t all your blood?”

Will’s stammering seemed to please Gideon, and he finally released his hold on the pistol and lightly toyed with the very tips of Will’s hair, twirling a curl around his finger.

“Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that,” he cooed. “You’re doing so good -,”

The end of whatever perverted innuendo Gideon was about to blabber out was cut off by Will’s sudden palm strike to his neck, just above the Adam’s apple. His eyes went wide as he sputtered and gagged from the hit, his hand reaching instinctively to his throat to protect it from another attack. Gideon’s other hand fumbled with bringing the shotgun around to aim at Will’s chest, which he easily wrenched from his grasp while bringing the pistol up to Gideon’s forehead. Will stared the Chesapeake Ripper in the eyes, and wondered how astronomical the odds were that one killer would break into the den of another killer like this.

He leaned in close to Gideon and shook his head.

“You shouldn’t have pointed a gun at my dogs.”

Then he pulled the trigger, flinching as blood and brain matter spattered across the wall and cabinets behind the table, a fine spray misting his glasses. The body sagged and fell sideways onto the table, and for a few moments Will concentrated on his breathing, staring at the dead serial killer in front of him. He had always enjoyed catching the moment the light went out of his victims’ eyes, power like molten gold flowing through his veins. But this time was especially intoxicating: He’d killed the fucking Chesapeake Ripper. He’d disposed of a lot of bad people over the years, but he’d never been as proud of himself as he was right now. The only bad thing about it was, he couldn’t tell a soul about it. As always, needs must.

Will cleaned his glasses with the hem of his gown and moped over his unbraggable victory until another loud squeak broke his reverie. He smiled and set down the gun before turning to the trembling little pups that had crawled dangerously close to the edge of the cot. Winston and Zoe, recognizing that the danger had passed, stretched and returned to their beds as if nothing had happened.

“Hey there, calm down. It’s all over,” he murmured, stripping off his bloody gloves and gown, then setting them both down in the safe center of their little blanket nest. “I know, it’s time to eat. I’ll be right back”

Will prepared the bottles for the pups and settled them back on his lap and let them suckle to contentment as the adrenaline from his impromptu gambit ebbed away; now all he saw was a hefty lump of dead weight to drag out to his car, and a hell of a mess to clean up inside. He suspected the police might be by in the morning to ensure Gideon hadn’t paid him a visit on the run. Which now reminded him—he was going to have to go out into the cold in the middle of the night to scramble his tracks. Will glared at the dead man on his table and silently hated him for the long, sleepless night he now had ahead. It was a good thing he was used to those.

“Hey,” Will warned as Zoe stalked over and curiously nosed at the hand hanging over the side of the exam table. She opted not to hear him and started licking at the blood pooling on the floor.

Tsst! Tsst! Zoe, stop that! Bad girl! You don’t know where he’s been!”

Chapter Text

Will smiled and lifted a hand in farewell before backing out onto the main road that circled the Verger estate. At the threshold of the stables stood Peter Bernadone, the only person Will knew that was more obsessed with animals than he was. He’d met the stable hand a few years prior when his previous employers had called about a mare having post-birth complications. Peter had assisted him, and together they’d saved her; also, quite spontaneously, they had just kind of…became friends. Will still couldn’t quite place his finger on the moment it had happened, it was so quiet and natural. By the time he’d left, he’d already planned on coming back for no other reason than to visit him. It was easy to be around Peter, uncomplicated by the usual social demands Will’s other relationships came with: like talking about his love life, his childhood, his hyper empathy disorder, and all those things that were really no one’s business. They just talked about the veritable menagerie of animals Peter cared for in his barn, or Will’s clients. Or they wouldn’t talk at all, and would just sit with something small and fuzzy in their hands and simply exist in the same space. A few times a month, Will took him fly fishing, and they'd just stand there in the river together for hours in silence and simple appreciation of each other’s company.

It was a friendship with no obligations and no expectations, yet when his employers had decided to let Peter go after years of service, Will had felt a desperate need to do something to help. Peter had been kicked in the head by a spooked horse some years before they’d met; the vicious scar that bisected the right side of his head was a jarring sight at first, and it was a miracle that he’d survived with so many of his faculties intact. But Will knew that despite the fact that Peter was a fully competent, devoted caretaker, his cognitive issues were sure to deter anyone else from hiring him. So, in an act that was far out of his comfort zone, he had gone to Margot, the heir to the Verger meat packing dynasty, and asked if she would give Peter a job in her private stables on Muskrat Farm. It had been difficult to work up the nerve to do so; he and Margot weren't necessarily close, but he'd been the vet to her horses for several years by that point, and he’d felt his word had to count for something. In the end, she had been the one who eventually thanked Will for bringing Peter to her. Her horses were healthy and well-cared for, and her toddler son Morgan loved visiting Peter’s spacious barn on the edge of the property to see his still growing zoo, always accompanied by her wife, Dr. Alana Bloom.

Alana had been a problem for Will at first. There was nothing wrong with her, but he was extremely glad he’d met her as a married woman. Firstly, she was ridiculously beautiful, a bombshell brunette with one of the sharpest minds he’d ever encountered in his life—which made working for her extremely awkward. Secondly, Alana was a respected psychiatrist who, despite her best attempts to resist it, was very interested in Will’s empathy disorder. Will didn’t like psychiatrists for this reason specifically, though he’d been the one who’d essentially offered himself on the altar of scientific research. He’d participated in several studies during college to help pay for his tuition, and while he managed to graduate debt free, he still regarded those years as some of the worst of his life. It’d been a nightmare having so many people in his head, poking and prodding and looking at him like something under glass. His empathy disorder become well-known in psychiatric circles, and he still occasionally received letters and proposals for more studies, which he always promptly filed in the bin by the receptionist desk labeled “trash” where they belonged. But eventually, Dr. Bloom heard of his condition through the academic grapevine, and she’d been so fascinated, that she’d cornered him during one of his monthly visits and asked him about it.

Will still wasn’t sure what to call the dialogue that had unfolded between them that day. It wasn’t an argument per se, but there had been heat on his tongue as he’d snarked back at her chagrined defense of just being professionally curious; that had been followed by apologies on both sides, and then followed by his clumsy attempt to smooth things over by complimenting her dress and she’d said his recent haircut was ‘nice’. It had been an absolute train wreck, but it had been necessary to shatter the tense, maddening politeness that had always hung between them before. It was obvious that they shared a mutual attraction, and that it was good that nothing would ever come of it because they would have been disastrous together. They’d both gotten a lot of closure that day, and while he still found her stunning, it was with a more abstract appreciation, like one would admire a work of art. He enjoyed their now easy banter, and he did sometimes indulge her curiosity about the way his mind worked, though it was in a more conversational, off the record manner. She’d even tried to set him up with a colleague of hers once, and…well, it had become pretty apparent that her taste in partners was pretty questionable and she was lucky Margot had been the one to pursue her.

A sudden blaring of some 80s synth pop song made him jump and nearly swerve on the blessedly empty highway. Will huffed and maneuvered his cell out of his coat pocket held tight by his seatbelt, and he wondered if Abigail might have been onto something with him getting  a car with Bluetooth. Finally free, he answered the call with an impatient snap

“Graham speaking.”

“Seriously? Who answers the phone like that? You think you’re in a gritty detective show or something?”

“You! I almost ran off the road with how loud you set your ring, Bev! How do you even keep changing that? I put a password-,”

“Biometrics, dude. I just opened up your eyes while you were blitzed out on my couch last time.”

“That’s assault,” Will gasped out playfully, unable to fight a grin. “Alright, I’m driving, I can’t be on this thing. What’s up?”

“Where are you?”

“Just leaving Peter’s. Why?”

“All that’s left is ‘when’ and ‘who’,” She snorted at her own joke. “And the answer to that is ‘immediately’ and ‘you, me, and the Wonder Geeks’.”

“You do know I run a business, right? Like a legitimate-,”

“We’re going bowling and there’s a super cute, broody guy I invited along because I want to watch you make an embarrassment of yourself in front of him. I have binoculars and everything, I call it ‘Will Watching’.”

Will was quiet for a moment, torn between what he wanted to yell at her for first: calling her out for the hurtful, yet accurate assumption that he would most certainly embarrass himself in front of whoever she had lured in for her own sick delights—or, refusing to understand that he was the only doctor at the practice he owned and ran and wanted to keep running, and could not just go off gallivanting at her beck and call.

“I bet you’re cooking up somethin’ real smart in that big brain of yours. How ‘bout you just shut up and do as I say, and drive to the alley by my place. Be there by seven sharp.”

She hung up before he could form the first letter of her name, and he fought the urge to just toss his phone out the window and never replace it.

Beverly Katz had been another of Will’s accidentally collected friends, though he could technically say she was the one who had initially pursued him. When she’d approached him at the gas station on a nearly deserted country road and told him that he looked like a man who was good with his hands, he’d mentally applauded the boldness of her flirting and actually pondered over whether to bite. It’d been a long dry spell at that point in his love life. Of course, with the natural sixth sense that all women seemed to have, she’d seen the less than chivalrous interest in his eyes and rolled her own, told him to calm down and to ‘please come look at my broke ass car, I’ve been here for hours’. After he’d fixed the issue and accepted the wet-wipes she’d offered for his grease covered hands, he’d asked how she’d known he even had any mechanical skills. He would never forget the first —and so far only— time that Beverly had looked sheepish and admitted she had already tried it on four other guys who turned out to be duds before he’d come along. He had admired her unfiltered personality, her overly-familiar way of insulting him like they’d been pals for years, and realized it was probably his favorite interaction with a stranger ever.

Unlike Peter, he could definitely pin down the moment they’d become friends: it was when she’d told him to follow her to a bar because she needed a drink that he would also be buying her, and he could not think of a reason why he didn’t want to. That had been six years ago, back when Will was still getting his practice up and running and she’d still been an FBI cadet. Through her, he’d met Jimmy Price and Brian Zeller, whom they secretly called the Wonder Geeks (™), and would argue over the real nature of their relationship. He was just…kind of friends with them. He didn’t mind them, they didn’t mind him, and they never spoke or hung out unless it was with her. When the four of them were together with the binding force that was Beverly Katz, it was always a memorable time.

And unlike Alana, Beverly could not possibly care less about his empathy disorder. To make up for that, she was unhealthily invested in his love life, and was constantly setting him up with probably every single person she came across. She always seemed to pick the worst people for him, and he often suspected she was just doing it on purpose for her own amusement. Actually…she was definitely doing that, she’d all but admitted it on the phone. Will huffed again, but couldn’t help but smile again—at least it was always interesting. Now he had to decide if he wanted to go and put on his one man show of ‘I haven’t been touched in nearly four years, can you tell?’, or if he just wanted to go home and bury himself into his pile of dogs—now totaling nine with the new pups—and just try to convince himself he didn’t need any human relationships at all.

Well, except Peter, he was still cool.

But several minutes later, his lips thoroughly gnawed from deliberation, Will was on the highway toward Virginia, pondering exactly how super cute this guy might actually be and if he was even in the mood for someone broody. He arrived at the alley at half past seven, and was playfully (seriously) chewed out by Bev before she’d introduced him to Matthew Brown, who was exactly as advertised. However, Beverly had left out the part where he was most definitely a psychopath, and if he hadn’t killed yet, he was on the verge of it. Will could see his own kind with a clarity that was disturbing at times, but thankfully, Matthew didn’t seem to share that gift. The last thing Will was looking for was a hot guy with a violent streak tempting him to go on a killing spree, and to watch the world burn and all that good, reckless fun. He just wanted someone that didn’t care that he basically lived in a very large doghouse, and who wasn’t turned off by nightmares, excessive sweating, midnight emergencies, and a whole other laundry list of wonderful inconveniences he could provide in a relationship. He wanted someone who cared enough not to care. And also, someone that was not about to embark on what was sure to be an impressive murder rampage like this guy.

He still tried to have a good time despite the discomfort of being tracked by Matthew’s hawk-like gaze every time he went up for his frames, but he could practically feel his ass being groped by his eyes, and he found himself giving only short, terse answers to his deeply invasive questions, and hiding behind his glasses. His attentions were so fierce and focused that he’d taken a fast turn from broody into creepy territory, and thankfully, Will was not the only one who noticed. Every time Matthew got a strike, he would celebrate just a tad too seriously, up to the point that even the usually unflappable Price would do his best not to laugh.

“Calm down edgelord, it’s just bowling,” Bev finally whispered after a particularly loud victory cry by Matthew that drew looks from all over the alley.

“I’m calling the FBI and demanding they fire you,” Will had said quickly, relieved that she was clearly regretting the fact that she’d orchestrated this fiasco. “You can’t profile for shit.”

“I told you, I don’t do that, I’m an evidence processing lackey, I just find the bad stuff and give it to someone else to worry about, and….and I’m making a good point against myself, yes, stop looking so damn smug.”

Will did not stop looking so damn smug, and continued to take in the glory of her now second sheepish moment.

“You look so lovely when you’re wrong, dear.”

“Shut up. I’m going to excuse myself to the little girl’s room now. I will call you in exactly three minutes and you are going to pretend you have some horrifying emergency that will make you haul ass out of here without giving him your number. I’ll tell him I didn’t know you were already seeing someone else because you’re an asshole friend that never tells me anything. Just don’t forget I clean up my own messes.”

He nodded in agreement, and she left with a casual mention of the restroom to the rest of the group, disappearing to the far side of the lanes. Will’s hand was practically twitching in anticipation as it lay poised by the pocket containing his cell phone, like the cliché of a cowboy at high noon, waiting to draw. Matthew was just finishing his second frame and turning those demented puppy dog eyes to Will when his phone rang, and he had to restrain himself to keep from looking like he’d expected it. Two rings in, he answered and Beverly started to complain about the awful state of the ladies room and asked if men’s rooms were just as bad. Will talked over her as if Abigail was on the phone telling him that a dalmatian was literally having a hundred and one puppies right then and there, and without a single word or glance behind him, Will was booking it to his car and to freedom. Beverly continued to talk until a rude noise from the stall beside her had her gagging and Will aggressively pressed the end button and peeled out of the lot. As expected, the night had been memorable.

Weeks passed before he eventually let Beverly live it down and things went back to normal, as much as a life with nine dogs and questionable friendships could be normal. Though he’d finally found some techs who actually preferred the overnight shifts, Will still picked up his own nights, alternating canine companions from his pack, the pups a constant since they were still too young to be left alone. Remus and Romulus were happily snuffling and dreaming twitchy puppy dreams, while his oldest dogs Jack and Buster dozed beside them. Everyone was fed and satisfied, and Will laid on his cot and looked around in contentment, wondering how he’d gotten so damn lucky. He liked his life, especially on nights like this when he was surrounded by his favorite kind of company. Yes, some of his human friends were…meddlesome, but they meant well. It certainly wasn’t the worst problem to have.

As he was musing over which Bowie album was going first on the night’s playlist, he heard it. AGAIN.

The sound of the side door handle jiggling was loud in the quiet of the clinic, and the older dogs stirred, their ears alert and scanning for the threat. Buster was the most brazen of his pack, and Will had to tug hard on his collar to get him from his aggressive stance and tucked safely under the cot. But whoever was outside was a much quicker lock pick than the last one, and before he could even leave the room to retrieve the shotgun, Will was already being confronted.

“Stop where you are. Hands up. Turn around.”

For a moment, he was surprised; he’d actually kind of expected it to be Matthew Brown, who could have tracked him down easily if he’d wanted to. It wasn’t like there was another Dr. Will Graham DVM anywhere else on the entire eastern seaboard. It seemed like enough time had passed that he might be over Will despite how often he’d harassed Bev for his number, though he’d still carried the worry in the back of his mind.  But now he had an unknown variable standing in his office, most likely armed, most definitely dangerous.

Will complied and slowly turned to find a tall, well-dressed man wielding what he assumed was the string of some instrument, possibly a cello judging by the length. It was not something he’d ever choose himself unless in a pinch, but this man looked perfectly comfortable with it; it was something he had used before and would not hesitate to use again. The string was crusted with dried blood and bits of flesh, just a few hours old probably. The blood that was slowly weeping from wounds to his leg was more recent, and despite his dark skin, he was beginning to look sallow. He had to be lightheaded for sure, but his eyes remained alert and his body moved with ease apart from the slight limp as he approached.

“How long were you waiting out there?” Will asked, testing the waters to see what type of rapport would throw him off guard. “It’s cold out.”

“I need medical attention,” he replied coolly, completely ignoring Will’s question. “Help me and I’ll leave.”

“Depends on what condition you plan to leave me in.”

Again, there was almost no reaction on his face, but Will could see a glimmer of impatience in his eyes, and his hands tightened around the ends of the string, pulling it taut.

“I’ve already killed two men tonight.”

Will was pretty unimpressed with that attempt at intimidation. He’d killed two people in one night, and he wasn’t going around bragging about it. But…maybe this would give him the opportunity to play with his cards out on the table rather than close to the chest like the last time.

“You could make it a third right now and then bleed out from your femoral vein in about another fifteen minutes. Or you can put that down and get on the table.”

He spoke with his back turned as he gathered his supplies. It was a huge risk, but also a show of his composure. It also hid his face as he bullshitted about the severity of the injury to the man’s leg—he’d already be dead if it were true. He was sure that though the intruder was silent, the wheels in his head were spinning wildly trying to figure him out and weighing his options.  When he turned and raised an eyebrow as if to reiterate his command, there was a subtle shift in the man’s posture, a relaxation of his hands, and he stepped towards the center of the exam room, still hesitant. Will pretended not to be as impatient as he was feeling and gestured towards his pants

“You can either take those off or I’ll have to cut them. I’m guessing you don't have another pair.”

“I could just take yours,” was the smug reply, with an unspoken ‘after I’m through with you’.

“I dunno, I really like these,” Will said with a shrug, looking down at his navy-blue scrubs. They were actually his favorite because of the flashlight pocket on the right thigh where a person could hide all sorts of neat things. He could see the man pursing his lips at the insinuation that he would not get said pants without a fight.

The intruder swayed a bit, then lowered the string, setting it down on the metal exam table before stripping off his pants and lifting himself up to sit. There were deep lacerations all around both palms, and the scraps of fabric he’d been using to protect his hands against his very odd weapon of choice were nothing but bloody, dripping rags now. He didn’t wince or groan or give any indication that he was in pain, and Will was starting to think he might be an honest to god android.

“This will be easier if you lie down.”

“Do it the hard way,” was all he got in response, and Will huffed and shot him a glare before bending down to look at his leg.

“What made these punctures? The spacing is really weird.”

For a long time, he didn’t get an answer while he cleaned the wounds and staunched the new bleeding. He was almost startled when the man finally answered a few minutes later.

“A statue. A bronze stag. It had antlers.”

“Somebody stabbed you with a statue?”

He almost allowed himself to laugh, but decided it was too casual too soon. He settled on just sounding incredulous and stalling with unnecessary wound examination and cleaning, letting awkward silence fill the room. He was comfortable with awkward silences, but it would only be a matter of time before the intruder felt compelled to break the quiet, and Will would play the sympathetic ear. After all, it was only polite to at least know a little something about a person before you killed them.

“He tried to-,” he paused, his voice wavering with uncertainty, as if he’d just caught himself speaking without knowing it. Good. He was off balance already. “There was a struggle.”

“I’d say you got your ass pretty well handed to you judging by these bruises,” Will said with just a twinge of pity as he looked up, his lips twisted with a wry grin while he prodded at the dark contusions on his face. The man flinched, but it wasn’t clear if it was from pain or from the invasion of his personal space. He had given tacit permission for Will to examine his leg, not any other part of his body, but he wasn’t stopping him. This was another show of fearlessness that would help to further disarm him. Will could already see a softening of the scowl he’d been wearing the whole time, and he knew he’d picked the right path.

“You could say that, I suppose.”

There was a matching sardonic tone in those words, and Will grinned again, nodding in understanding. He was human after all, then.

“This is the part where you say ‘you should see the other guy’.”

“I…,” the man paused, averting his eyes and frowning. “I had to get away.”

“Hope you’re not planning on going back to finish the job anytime soon.  You should have been off your feet the second you got gored. This is going to take some time to heal, so if I were you, I’d find somewhere to lay low for a while.”

“Yeah, I’m…I’m not,” the intruder muttered, looking crestfallen, as if the seriousness of the situation was just now crashing down on him.

Will could almost feel bad for him if he hadn’t so rudely broken into his clinic and disturbed Bowie time.

It took a few moments before Will’s words finally translated in the man’s head, and he gave him a sharp, almost accusatory look.

“If you were me?”

Will stood very still, concentrating on keeping his expression perfectly neutral while the man assessed him. He waited and created backup plans in his head while the man took him in and drew his conclusions. And then, as if perfectly playing his role in a scene Will had written himself, the man dropped all the remaining tension in his body and cracked what might actually be a smile, if one was generous.

“You understand.”

Will carefully composed his face to appear as smugly predatory as possible, something he’d actually practiced in the mirror many years back when he’d first realized that killing was just going to be one of those things he did sometimes, and that he might as well look cool doing it.

“I do.”

Then, as if they’d met at some murderer convention, the man offered a handshake that Will accepted with just the right amount of pressure to be careful with his wounds. That mindfulness would not go unnoticed.

“Tobias Budge. Seems like lightning has struck twice for me, Dr. Graham.”

Will arched a brow questioningly, then after taking the liberty to retrieve his rolling stool, he set about threading his needle.

“I met another like me. Like us,” Tobias said with an almost reverent tone. “I had thought that…well, it’s difficult to live seeing in full color when everyone else can only see in black and white.”

“True vision comes with its own burdens.”

“Yes,” Tobias said quickly, his voice almost cracking on the word as he bestowed an actual smile on Will. “That’s exactly it. I…I tried to reach out to him and it wasn’t well received,”

He trailed off, and Will started dabbing topical novocaine around the areas to be stitched. Again, he hadn’t offered an injection of anesthetic, and knew Tobias had taken note of the quiet gesture to make him feel comfortable.

“I take it he didn’t like being seen?”

“No,” Tobias shook his head, and let out a frustrated huff that could have been a laugh. “No, he did not. He turned my only friend against me, and then the FBI showed up at my door to question me, and I had to fight my way out.”

“FBI?” Will whispered, sitting back to look at Tobias with a worried expression. “They’re after you? You don’t have GPS in your car, do you?”

“No, too old. I left my phone behind, too.”

“Good, good,” Will nodded, trying to look distracted, but secretly relieved that Tobias was untraceable. He switched his expression to sheepish when he looked back up. “I got…I have a few things out in the woods that I’d rather not have anyone stumbling onto.”

“No one knows I’m here. There’s no danger.”

With another nod and an unforced grateful smile, Will got to work on the stitches in earnest, though he was really just wasting materials in the end. This guy was going to die on his table; it was just a matter of time and opportunity now. But he did have to admit, he was genuinely curious about this other man, the one like them.

“So how did you get stabbed? I can’t picture an FBI agent goring you with bronze antlers.”

“I went straight to him after the FBI were taken care of. My friend Franklyn’s-well, he’s obsessed with the guy, and he used that, I know he did! He used it to turn Franklyn against me and they reported me.”

“What exactly did they report you for?”

“I left something for him, a calling card. I thought it could be the start of a conversation, but he didn’t want it. I might have…well, I may have said too much to Franklyn and it made him suspicious.”

“You said you killed two men-but you were just being questioned, weren’t you? What escalated it?”

“They had a warrant. My work,” he said, and a look of pride crossed his face so subtly, it made Will jealous. He was going to have to practice that one. “It requires certain materials. They would have found remains.”

“You make things out of your kills?”

“Strings. I own a string shop in Baltimore and I make strings from… them. Best catgut strings outside of Europe.”

Will’s eyes went to the string still coiled on the table beside him, then back up to Tobias’ hopeful expression. There was little preamble as he fell through Tobias’ eyes and tumbled into his brain, Will’s empathy creating a world in his head so detailed, that he could fully see what this man was and what he had done. Will could see a quaint shop, probably a renovated historic home in a gentrified area. Tobias played a cello, judging by his finger callouses and posture of his hands as they rested naturally on the table, and it explained his comfort with the string as a weapon. He would need a workspace, somewhere he could take his kills and not worry about discovery…a basement. Will’s imagination supplied the scene: he could see long, bleached white intestines stretched across the length of the basement, a chemical treatment station, and of course, a disposal area for the rest of the victims. But something…something was off in Will’s vision. It was blurry at first, but he was almost certain he was seeing the bodies as furred and small and—

Oh,” he found himself saying aloud, though he hadn’t meant to.

Tobias had started small then, just like a lot of their kind did. Will had always particularly abhorred this type of killer, and now he had one ripe for the taking sitting right on his table. No one knew he was there, and the night was still young. If he really wanted to, he could make this last for hours. And with the horrifying image in his head of the animals that Tobias had used to hone his skills, he was feeling wide awake.

“Sounds lucrative,” Will finally said as he retreated from the twisted mind he was looking forward to scrambling soon. “So, they turned you in, FBI shows up, you finish them off and— hey, seriously, this is going to be better if you lie down. These will come out too tight like this.”

He went down without a second of hesitation, and as Will stood and continued his work, Tobias got to filling in the blanks about his encounter with the other as Will pulled the syringe from the little flashlight pocket and maneuvered it into the sleeve of his gown. With the area well numbed and the expectation of the pressure of a needle piercing his skin, Tobias had no idea he was being dosed with the paralytic that Will saved for special occasions. It was most definitely called for tonight.

“This guy. What’s he like?”

“He’s…magnificent,” Tobias murmured almost dreamily, “Dr. Graham—he’s the Chesapeake Ripper”

Now that gave Will legitimate pause, and he looked at his face with a confused frown.

“I thought Abel Gideon was the Ripper?”

“That hack? No, he didn’t have the vision the Ripper has, just the impulse. He couldn’t have created art like I witnessed. I followed the real Ripper one night and I saw him”

“What,” Will gulped, mostly with sincerity. “What did you see?”

“He’s perfection. Quick, brutal but elegant. I saw the whole process, his creation from start to finish. I really thought...I thought I had found another who could understand me, who could see the world way I do. But he didn’t want me. He didn’t want to be my friend, and he manipulated the closest thing I had to one into betraying me.”

“I understand what you said now,” Will murmured as he tied off and trimmed the final set of stitches. Judging by the glassiness in Tobias’ eyes, the drug was just now taking enough effect to render him unable to move, but still able to feel everything Will was going to do to him. “When you said lightning had struck twice for you. You meant me, didn’t you Tobias?”

“Yesss,” he replied, his brow twitching as the word came out slurred, and he seemed confused as to why he couldn’t nod.

“You thought you were safe because I showed you mine and you showed me yours. You thought I would embrace you and all your darkness because I share it, because I see you, see like you. You want me to be your friend, just like you wanted the Ripper to be your friend. But he didn’t want you, and neither do I.”

“P-p-pl,” Tobias tried to sputter out a plea, his eyes wide and unblinking.

“My problem with you is I really don’t like animal abusers, Tobias. And I know exactly what you did. You lured strays to you, and then used them like they were nothing but experiments before you moved on to people. Like they were just tools and materials. It makes me very upset to think about how long you must have been doing it for. And since I was going to kill you anyway just for breaking in here, I’ve given you something to keep you nice and still while I return the favor on their behalf. Since we both know no one is going to come looking for you here, we have the whole night to ourselves. Aren’t you lucky? You got to see the Ripper in action, and you get to see my design now.”

With that said, Will crossed the room and retrieved some of his most fun tools, as well as the Bluetooth speaker Abigail kept on the reception desk; as it turned out, it was definitely a Hunky Dory kind of night. With the music and the mood set, he donned a plastic face shield and walked back to the table. He hovered over Tobias’ face, silently showing him each instrument before he set them down, letting him count, watching his eyes twitch as they fought in vain to close or turn away from the sight. The paralytic would wear off in about two hours, but he was pretty sure he was going to make enough progress by then not to worry about having to restrain Tobias.

“We’ll see how many we can get through. Are you ready?”

There was just the slightest twitch of fear in those wide dark eyes and Will gave him a mocking frown.

“What’s wrong? You had so much to say earlier. Cat got your tongue?” Will asked, trying not to laugh at his own dumb joke while he stared down and leaned in close, his scalpel and forceps approaching the slack mouth before him. “No, not yet.”

As he worked on Tobias Budge, Will’s thoughts wandered to the other he’d spoken about, the one who had manipulated and killed his friend. Tobias had said he was the Chesapeake Ripper, and Will believed him. Abel Gideon really hadn’t made sense, anyway. He was a killer, but nothing more, not anything like the artist that Will imagined he would be. He was actually relieved he hadn’t killed the real one, that he was alive and obviously doing well out there somewhere. That meant there were more beautiful tableaus to look forward to in the future, more pictures and video secretly captured from behind police lines by the industrious Freddie Lounds of Tattlecrime for him to peruse and analyze. Will had only started looking at them after Gideon’s visit, and he occasionally indulged in it when he needed something to distract him from his insomnia. It had been a casual sort of hobby so far, but now that he’d met someone who’d actually seen the Ripper in action, who had praised him beyond measure even after he’d been betrayed and beaten half to death by him, Will was finding himself even more interested.

“You know, I probably could have gotten you to tell me who he was. I mean, I know I could have gotten you to tell me,” he chuckled, gesturing too carelessly with the hand that was holding Tobias’ severed tongue, spattering blood across the floor. “Ah, dammit. Anyway, I’m glad I didn't. It’s better not knowing. I do love his work and all, but I don’t think I’d be as desperate to get his attention as you were. We don’t do well in pairs, people like us. You can’t just go around leaving…you know, I don’t actually know what you left him. I’m curious now. I’ll look it up, hang on to this for me.”

Will took his limp hand and placed his tongue in it while he stripped off his gloves and grabbed his tablet to search for Tobias’ crime. He studied the pictures on Tattlecrime.com for a while, suctioning blood from Tobias’ throat with his free hand so he wouldn’t drown and end the night early.

“Ok, that’s a little on the nose, don’t you think? Serenading him? Showing him how well you can play? This is all very specific. Huh…you met him somewhere like this, didn’t you? Someplace…cultured? Yeah, it makes sense now, why he didn’t want you. It’s really presumptuous…kind of rude even, to just go around making unwanted advances like this. That’s not how you make friends, you know? It just happens, it’s natural- no courting and definitely no goring involved. Take my friend Peter for instance…,”

Will spent the rest of the night talking Tobias’ ears off about his relationships while he worked, trying to explain where he’d gone wrong with his far too blunt offering of friendship to the Ripper, then actually took his ears off, as well as the rest of his extremities. The man passed in a good amount of pain, and Will felt satisfied as he stood and watched the spark of life fading from him, his reciprocating saw making mush of the heart in his open chest. It had been literal overkill, but there was a point Will had been trying to make, and the point had been ‘cruelty breeds cruelty’. He was pretty sure Tobias had understood that before he’d gone, so all in all, it had been a productive night.

After breaking down the corpse, he packed it up into the plastic sheeting in the back of his car. Then he cleaned the room and himself up before taking Tobias’ car and hiding it further into the woods. He would worry about the disposal in the morning. For now, he settled on his cot with the dogs, Bowie in the air, and tried to chase that feeling of contentment that Tobias had so rudely interrupted. But there was no getting it back now, not after what he’d seen in his head. It was a two-way street, the gift of his empathy, and though he’d gotten better at handling it throughout the years, he still suffered from the effects. Sleep was hard to come by most nights, and this one would be no exception. The only real gratification that Will had—other than a stellar takedown of yet another intruder—was that he would be saving animals from the horrors of Tobias’ basement, and that somewhere out there, the Chesapeake Ripper was still alive and thriving, unaware of the favor Will had inadvertently done for him.

Suddenly, he became aware of the faint wet sounds of gnawing and licking. He leaned over to look under the bed to find Buster occupied with something between his paws.

“Buster…what are you—you gotta be kidding me! Drop it! Drop the ear!”

Chapter Text

“Dr. Graham’s office, this is Ab- fuck!”

Will heard the curse as well as the shocked gasp from a client coming from the front waiting room, and he ducked his head around the corner to shoot a chastising look at Abigail. She was sitting there wide-eyed and embarrassed, but there was some heat in the gaze that met his. After apologizing to the client—who thankfully laughed it off—she walked over to him, her hands clenched into fists. Will had never seen her lose her cool in all the time she’d been working at his clinic.

“We have a serious crank caller problem! I mean, this jerk has been calling every twenty minutes for the past two days! I can’t take it anymore!”

“We can block the number-,”

“It’s private! We can’t do anything!”

“The hell we can’t. You kids don’t know about phone codes. They should teach this stuff in school. Here, give me that pad.”

Will then spent the next several minutes writing down every phone code he could unearth from his memory. Abigail returned happily to the receptionist desk with her new arsenal against the caller, and just like she’d said, the phone rang around twenty minutes from the last call.

“Private number, suck my-,”

“Abigail!” Will yelled from the doorway and sheepishly smiled at the same client as he handed her back the leash to her newly vaccinated border collie. She laughed it off and said goodbye cheerfully to them both, leaving them alone in the lobby.

“Sorry, I got excited,” Abigail cringed, but couldn’t quell her grin. Will couldn’t help but follow suit.

“I get it, just watch the language. How’s the schedule look?”

“Empty until three. Slow day.”

“That’s a good thing,” Will shrugged, unbothered by lack of clients; an empty schedule meant healthy animals. “Take a break, I’m going to take the dogs out for a bit.”

“Can I come with you?” She asked suddenly in a tiny voice, looking nervous all of a sudden.

Will nodded, and gestured for her to follow him. He had been waiting for this moment, and while he wanted to reassure her that she had nothing to be worried about— that she’d had his recommendation for over a year now— it wouldn’t hurt to let her squirm a little. It built character, or whatever. It was pretty funny, too.

They walked through the woods behind the clinic, Ellie and Winston weaving paths through the snowdrifts while Remus and Romulus strained at the harnesses they were being trained on. Will let Abigail handle the puppies while he exercised the older dogs for half an hour or so. It took a while for her to build up the courage to broach the subject of veterinary school during the walk back, but once she caught on that he was letting her talk circles around herself trying to make a case why he should recommend her, she punched his shoulder.

“You already did it, didn’t you? My rec letter?”

Will laughed and rubbed his shoulder.

“Maybe. Might delete it now that you’ve assaulted your employer.”

She forgave him quickly, and he was surprised that she hugged him, though he shouldn’t have been. Since her father had…died two years ago, it had been almost inevitable that she would transfer those feelings to Will. Both outdoorsmen, he’d had a lot in common with her father— that and far more than she would ever know.  It was impossible for him not to develop paternal instincts for her in response. Or maybe he’d had them long before his death; it might have been what had motivated him to intervene the way he did. Will had never wanted children of his own, but he did like them, saw them the same way he saw animals: the pinnacle of innocence. Abigail was nearly an adult now, but he still saw her as the scrawny, shy kid he’d first given a job cleaning cages, a pure soul with the potential for bringing good into the world. If that wasn’t the most dad thing ever, he wasn’t sure what was.

“Hey, someone’s here,” she said with concern as they neared the clinic, and he followed her gaze to see a figure leaning against a car in the lot.

Will’s stomach dropped in dismay. Matthew Brown watched him from afar with that hawk-like stare, a faint smirk on his lips that screamed ‘Yeah, I Googled you, bitch’.

“He’s here for me, some guy who can’t take a hint. He was probably the one calling. I gotta talk to him. I need you to towel down the dogs, please. I’ll be back in twenty minutes tops.”

“Yeah, of course.”

She was a smart kid; she knew Will was on edge and that this guy’s presence wasn’t welcome. She would also understand that if he did not return to the office in that amount of time, she was to call for help. He also really hoped she would decide it was a good time to check if the shotgun was loaded...just in case.

“Twenty minutes, got it” she repeated back to him, her voice firm and just a tiny bit louder than she’d been speaking before. He nodded in agreement, trying not to be delighted at her indirect threat to Matthew, and went to confront his surprise guest.

“Dr. Graham. I was starting to think you were gone for the day.”

“I don’t know why you’ve been calling non-stop or why you thought it was ok to come to my business after I blocked your number-but you can’t be dense enough not to take a hint.”

There was a flash of shock across Matthew’s face, which melted back into that creepy smile.

“You’re cute when you’re angry. You get this flush across your cheeks, your nose. I wonder how far down it goes?” he murmured as his eyes raked down Will’s neck and chest, hidden beneath his thick scarf and heavy jacket. “I’d love to find out.”

“I’m not interested. Look, can you just not make a big deal out of this and go? There’s nothing here for you.”

“No, you’re wrong about that, Dr. Graham,” Matthew said with a confidence that raised his hackles. “I think you have everything I want.”

“Matthew-,” Will huffed, rolling his eyes and shoving his hands into his pockets. He kept a folding knife in the left and bear mace in the right. If this guy kept looking at him like a piece of meat, he was going to experience both.

“You’re special,” Matthew interrupted, taking another step towards him. “I could see it the moment I laid eyes on you that night. I was…drawn to you. But I couldn’t figure out why, not for a while. I mean, you’re gorgeous of course, but that wasn’t it, it wasn’t all. There was something else, something I couldn’t place until I really thought about those pretty baby blues and all that was behind them, and it hit me! I knew what I was seeing, because I see it every day, Dr. Graham.”

While Will’s entire body tensed, he managed to keep the surprise from his face. But Matthew looked triumphant regardless and he laughed.

“You’re a good actor, but not good enough. I can see it in the eyes, Will. The pupils dilate when a person hears the truth. It’s as good as shouting it to the world, but only I can hear it. You’re just like me, just like them.”

He was no doubt referring to the inmates of the BSHCI where Matthew was an orderly. Will hadn’t even known he worked there until days after their catastrophic night at the bowling alley, and he’d been so certain that Matthew hadn’t seen his own darkness reflected in Will, that he was too oblivious. But it seemed like he’d worked it out in the end, and now, he was in a bad spot.

“If I am, then you know you shouldn’t be standing so close to me.”

He flicked out the knife at his side and watched Matthew’s grin grow only wider. He leaned in close, his neck bared as if tempting him to strike.

“You are insanely hot when you’re thinking about killing me,” he whispered, his voice hoarse with lust. “But you’re not going to. Because if you kill me, you’re going to have to kill her, too.”

Will followed the nod of his head towards the back door where he just caught a glimpse of Abigail’s head ducking away from the window. He should have known she’d be watching. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but if she had witnessed Will slitting Matthew’s throat, it wouldn’t have made much difference.

He had to wonder though—just how deep did her loyalty go?

“I saw you together. You care about her. You won’t do it, so you can just put that away and take your hands out of your pockets.”

Matthew’s words drew his attention back, and he paused only a moment before complying.

“It doesn’t matter what you think you know about me, it doesn’t change my answer. I don’t want anything to do with you. Just leave me alone and move on.”

Move on? To what?” Matthew asked harshly, looking genuinely hurt. “Nothing could compare to you, to what we could be together. You’re perfect for me, Will. And I’m perfect for you, too. I mean, what are the odds of two people like us being on the same fucking continent let alone right down the road from each other? You have to see this isn’t a coincidence.”

“It’s a fucking nightmare, that’s what it is,” Will muttered under his breath and stepped back, running his hands roughly through his hair in frustration. “You’re not listening to me! This isn’t something you can just come and talk me into! I don’t want this—fuck, even if I gave you a chance, it wouldn’t be sustainable. You have to know that, deep down. We’d both be dead at the end of it.”

“You’re wrong,” he replied with a choked desperation that betrayed him. Matthew did in fact know Will was right, but didn’t want to admit it. “It wouldn’t be like that; I would cherish you. You are a gift, and we were brought together for a reason-,”

“It doesn’t matter—I’m already in a relationship.”

Will looked away to hide his own shock as the words tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them. He’d been formulating plans in the back of his head to end this without getting his hands dirty, and he hadn’t meant to say anything out loud. The idea was untested, and could easily backfire on him, but it had gotten Matthew’s attention. He had messed up, but Will couldn’t un-lie the lie, and now he had to throw himself into it full tilt before Matthew saw through his bluff.

“That’s what your friend told me, but I didn’t believe her. Will, look at me. You’re not lying to me, are you?”

There was a savage, jealous edge to Matthew’s voice, and Will saw his hand flexing in his pocket-he’d come prepared too, apparently. His next words were either going to save him, or kill both him and Abigail. Will conjured up just the right amount of fear, peeking over his shoulder towards the road as if he was afraid someone would see them together. Then he forced himself to think about the patient he’d lost the previous week, and tears blurred his vision as he rubbed over his beard, making him look just the right amount of vulnerable.

“No one is supposed to know about it. Look, you need to leave. It’s not safe here. I can’t stop him you if he finds you here. I already told him about meeting you and he was willing to let it go because Bev made a huge mistake. So just go, and don’t come back, don’t call again. Please, just go.”

“You’re scared.”

Will finally met Matthew’s intense gaze and he could see genuine concern reflected there. He pushed himself further into his role and dropped his gaze again, shrinking his posture until his shoulders were nearly up by his ears.

“I’m-I’m not. It’s just…if I set him off, he gets…it’s really complicated. Can you please just go? I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

“No, I’m not just going to leave you,” he insisted, stepping in close to him. Matthew was slightly shorter, but with his hunched pose, Will probably seemed small and delicate, something helpless in need of protection. So far, everything was going to his still evolving plan. “Will, is he hurting you? Is that why you’re scared? I can help you. I’m not afraid-,”

“Matthew, just go!”

He whispered the plea harshly, and felt a surge of pride at the perfect crack in his voice. He was fighting for his life with this lie, and he was nailing it. Will was a good fisherman: he had patience, dedication, and he rarely left the river without a catch. After many years of wielding a pole, he could detect the slightest nibble in the midst of a roaring river. He could feel Matthew being drawn closer and closer by the lure of a potential lover in distress, and he was so close to being hooked. The problem was Will still wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to do with him once he had him on the line.

“Will,” Matthew said softly, and he reached out and cupped Will’s cheek tenderly, thumb just inches from his lips. Will swallowed his disgust and leaned into the touch so minutely, he was sure Matthew was wondering if he’d just imagined it. “Will, who is he? Let me help you. I’m not afraid, and I would…I would do anything for you.”

Matthew was young, probably almost a decade his junior, and he was obviously inexperienced; not just with the kind of partnership he was begging Will for, but with relationships in general. Will wasn’t a master of those himself, but he was bright enough to know that a good one didn’t start with stalking and death threats. He felt sorry for the guy, he really did, but Matthew wasn’t taking no for an answer, and it was clear that he would never stop trying to convince him otherwise. And if that didn’t work, he might turn to blackmail, or worse-he might hurt someone or something that Will cared about to force his hand. From the corner of his eye, he could see a shadow in the window again, and he pictured Abigail standing there, watching intently, a timer on her cell phone counting down the seconds until she could call the police.

Or

Or did she already have the shotgun in her hands, loaded and ready? Was she standing ready to take out any threat to Will, who she watched with the eyes of a protective daughter who had already lost one father? Maybe she was a lot more like Garret Jacob Hobbs than he’d been willing to admit. It was a thrill to imagine how much more they could share if he let her do this, let her become by killing Matthew Brown. He could finally tell her that her father had not died in a hunting accident, and she would be thankful…but…no. That wasn’t the path he’d dreamed about for her. Abigail was designed for healing, not destruction— though admittedly, it was a fine line to walk. He saw her by his side in a different way, with a white coat of her own and a degree on the wall beside his. No, he wouldn’t let her do this, and he wouldn’t let Matthew continue to threaten the place he had been building for her.

It was far too suspicious to kill him himself—they had history, witnesses, phone logs, and probably GPS showing him at the clinic. It would be too messy, and there was no way he could keep Abigail from being involved. The only option was to get someone else to do if for him. But it wasn’t like Will had a rolodex of other killers he could just call up and ask a favor of. Beverly and the Wonder Geeks (™) were in the business of catching murderers, and he could never ask something so awful of Peter. Alana and Margot? They probably had resources, but it was out of the question—Alana would see right through him if he asked for help. That left only one other person in the world that Will was absolutely certain would kill Matthew Brown for him, and if he was exceptionally lucky, they would never know why. It was dangerous since Matthew was an obvious drama queen and could let too much information slip. But Will could not see another way safely out of this situation; he’d outsmarted two dangerous killers in the past few months, but it was nothing compared to the risk he was about to take. For the first time in a long time, he was genuinely scared of what he was about to do.

“He’s the Chesapeake Ripper.”

There was a long moment where Matthew simply stared at him, his face and eyes devoid of all emotion. Will didn’t know what to make of it; he couldn’t read anything, though he hoped he was scared, or at least daunted. Could he be so lucky that Matthew would be frightened off by the mere suggestion that his rival was the Ripper himself?

“You’re with the Chesapeake Ripper?”

Will nodded, and met his eyes as a tear rolled down his cheek. He poured every ounce of his empathy into making himself believe it was the truth, hoping his pupils were dilating, that Matthew would not see the lie. The man’s face fell as he rubbed a hand over his mouth, looking away at the woods around them.

Yes. He had bought it. He was on the hook and didn’t even know it.

“No wonder you’re afraid.”

“It’s…it’s not like you think. I’m happy-,”

“You’re lying,” Matthew growled suddenly, looking almost feral. “Someone like you shouldn’t be afraid of anything or anyone. Whatever he’s done to you, you didn’t deserve it. I would never treat you that way, Will.”

Ah. Of course he wouldn’t back down, even with the Ripper as the obstacle between them; that would have been much too easy. But the plan was already in motion, so Will remained silent and let Matthew sink the barbs of the hook deeper all on his own.

“I’ll kill him. I’m going to kill him for you, and then you’ll be free. We can be together and I’ll show you what it should be like. You just have to tell me who-,”

“You can’t do this, he’ll kill you!” Will cried, and let another tear fall, did everything he could to look distraught, pacing and raking his hands through his hair. “He’ll kill you and then me!”

“He won’t get a chance. He won’t even be expecting me, he’ll never see me coming. Will, who is he?”

It was getting too close to the twenty-minute mark now. Abigail was still a worrisome variable and Will had to end this before his gambit started to fall apart. So he whirled on Matthew and shoved a finger in his face angrily.

“If you want to get yourself killed so badly, you figure it out! Don’t come back here! And stop fucking calling!”

Then, he turned and stomped off towards the side door of the clinic where Abigail was most certainly watching his flank. When he got close, she threw the door open to fully reveal herself and the shotgun that sat confidently in her hands. Pride warmed Will’s blood as he saw her stare icily over his shoulder towards Matthew, glad that she couldn’t see his excitement at the sight of her armed and ready to kill. He slammed the door behind him and they stood together quietly, listening for the sound of a car starting. It came only a moment later, and they both let out the breaths they’d been holding. It was tense, but he cracked a smile and shook his head in mock disbelief, getting a little nervous laugh from her. Her hands were shaking now, her eyes watery as she did her best to pretend she was fine.

“You’ve got some shitty exes, Dr. Graham.”

“He wasn’t even that—just a bad date that wouldn’t take no for an answer,” he waved it off, and took the shotgun from her, walking to the front desk to return it to the rack. “But I think we’ve seen the last of him. Don’t expect any more calls, either.”

“You really think he’ll stop?”

“Yeah, I think I made it pretty clear,” he said with a forced smugness. “I can be a real asshole sometimes, you know?”

“Sometimes?” Abigail scoffed and bit back a laugh as Will rolled his eyes and pointed at the files piled up on her desk.

“I don’t pay you to sass. Get back to work.”

As the weeks went on, they didn’t talk about Matthew’s visit again, nor did they talk about what Abigail had been intending to do with the shotgun had he not come back in time. Will could see the words perched just under her tongue sometimes, her jaw tight like she was trying to keep them from escaping. It was difficult not to help relieve her anxiety over it, but he could not let her start that dialogue. It would change things in a way that could not be undone, and her potential for good was so much more precious to him than the other thing she could be under his wing. So they danced around the subject until she seemed to settle it herself, and the tension went away. In the meantime, Will gave her the recommendation letter and took her on a visit to the Verger estate to get her some hands-on experience with the horses.

He also had an alarm system installed in the clinic: new locks, cameras, alarms, the whole shebang. They had been incredibly lucky that the two intruders had come during his overnights, but if anyone decided to pay a visit on a night when a tech was alone and vulnerable, Will would never forgive himself. He started letting them bring a friend or family member to pass the night, playing it off as being good for morale. The techs liked the change immensely, and he ended up spending a lot more nights at home with his whole pack, more nights to work on his lures, or to read, or toss and turn restlessly in an actual bed.

But inevitably, he ended up back for his own night shift a few weeks later, fitting fresh sheets on the cot as Winston and Zoe and the pups sought out their own beds. He made his rounds of the building, checking locks and keying in codes, then watched the outside cameras until he felt certain that there was no one lurking in the shadows. He hadn’t heard a peep from Matthew Brown since their confrontation, and even if he or someone else did show up and try to break in, Will would just let the security system do its job and let the police handle it. He’d done enough killing lately, and the ground was now too hard for him to even dig a grave. He was still waiting until Spring to empty the deep freezer in his barn of Tobias as it was.

“What are you guys in the mood for tonight?” Will asked aloud to the animals in the room. He went to a cage and opened the door, gently lifting out an orphaned ginger kitten with a little cast on her broken front leg. He’d been smitten with her since she'd been brought in as a rescue, and in his head, he’d been calling her Stevie. Will had never had a cat, but it was starting to look like he would have one now. “What about you sweetheart, what are you feeling? You like Dylan?”

The kitten mewled and began to purr as he cradled her to his chest, and Will chuckled.

“I’ll take that as yes.”

He settled on his cot and set Blonde on Blonde to play, his tablet perched on one leg, the sleeping kitten on the other, and Remus and Romulus at his feet. He sang along softly between bites of the homemade bread pudding Mrs. Hobbs had made him as a thanks for helping Abigail with her college application. Everything was quiet, calm, and he felt a sense of contentment that was just ripe for the breaking. To say that he was anxious might have been too dramatic, but he was definitely apprehensive. He’d been scouring the internet daily for word of Matthew’s inevitable disappearance. Will would be very surprised if the man didn’t eventually figure out the identity of the Chesapeake Ripper, because while he was dense, he was also sharp eyed and on a mission to ‘save' Will from his imaginary abusive relationship. It was kind of nice, to be pursued so diligently. If only it could have been by a different person.

It was as he was starting to maneuver the animals off of him without waking them that Will heard the proximity alarm quietly beeping. He froze for a moment, waiting to see if it stopped on its own; the alarm was sensitive, and some techs had said even just a good stiff breeze could set it off. But then there was an insistent knocking at the door and Will hopped to his feet, heading towards the monitors. There on the front porch stood a man huddled against the cold, a box in his arms. Though the camera wasn’t in color, Will could see dark stains on the box, and he immediately shifted gears, dismissing the alarm and racing to the front door to help whatever was bleeding in that box. When he opened it, he found a frantic older man-he was mid-forties maybe- with sandy blond hair and warm brown eyes filled with worry.

“I hit a dog out on the road-it just- it ran out in front of me.”

“It’s ok, bring it in” Will said gently, gesturing for him to follow him inside, shutting out the cold behind them. He started to reach for the box, but the man simply nodded towards the exam room questioningly.

“There?”

Will nodded and pointed him to the table, then turned to grab supplies. When he looked up at the glass panel of the cabinet in front of him, he could see that the man was taking off his heavy coat, watching Will don his gloves. He seemed so distraught, nearly in tears at what he’d done; his empathy kicked in and he felt a pang of guilt in his stomach, probably what the man was feeling too, was why he hadn’t wanted to let go of the box.  With that much blood, there wasn't a lot of hope, but at least he had stopped and sought out help. Even if Will couldn’t save the dog, the point was that he had tried.

“How long ago-,”

Before Will could even finish his question, everything went to hell.

In the blink of an eye, the reflection of the man seemed to transform, growing taller, broader, his face looking ghoulish and menacing in the dim lighting. Will’s instincts kicked in nearly a second too late, but he was able to dodge the syringe that came swinging towards his neck. He darted to the side and whirled on the man, a scalpel in hand as his own body shifted into fight mode.

Their eyes met and Will felt like he was looking at an entirely different person than the man he'd let inside. This was a predator of the highest order, and as Will circled the exam table to keep it between them, the man followed with a leonine grace that sparked primitive fear in his midbrain. Will was out of his league- he knew it, and this man knew it, too. There was nothing on his face but an unnervingly focused stare in his eyes, nothing for Will to read. But he knew who this man was. There could only be one person who would have come to kill him.

“You're the Chesapeake Ripper,” he said softly, and he saw a slight uptick of his lips, as if he liked hearing it said out loud.

“Yes, Dr. Graham. And I know who you are, as well.”

“Is he dead? Matthew Brown?”

There was no reply this time, not even a smirk, but it was answer enough. Will had made it to the other side of the table and tried to make a dash for the lobby to grab the shotgun, but the Ripper easily read his intentions and rushed to block the doorway. He had nothing but the syringe, but Will had seen too many of his tableaus to underestimate him even unarmed. But even as his mind was processing the fact that this man could probably rip him apart with his bare hands—and looked so inclined— his eyes focused on the deep laceration to one wrist, nearly hidden by a sleek leather driving glove. It was dribbling blood, the scent of it filling the room, pattering to the floor at his feet.  Well, that explained the bloody box.

“Oh no,” Will said with a genuine sigh of regret. “This wasn’t part of the plan.”

“What plan would that be?”

“The one that didn’t involve you getting hurt. Alright, look— I can explain everything that has happened to you. I know you’re here to kill me, and you have every right to want to do that. But you also need help, you're bleeding out fast. I’m not a threat to you, and I don’t want to die here. Just…just let me help you and I’ll tell you everything.”

The Ripper stared at him with eyes full of confusion and disbelief, but his features stayed solid and neutral. Will didn't want to fight him; he knew he wouldn’t win. There was only one way out of this alive and it was by trying to make things right.  He had known there might be consequences when he’d sent Matthew after the Chesapeake Ripper, and now he had to face them. And he had to start by taking a risk that scared the hell out of him.

“I’m going to put this down. You can see I don’t have anywhere to hide any other weapons,” he said, nodding down to the simple t-shirt and boxers he was wearing, which lent just the perfect amount of humiliation to the situation. “There’s a shotgun under the front desk, but that’s all, and I know I won’t make it past you. Ok? Here it goes.”

Will held up his hands and made a show of himself dropping the scalpel and kicking it away, then went rigid as the Ripper dashed forward to grab the back of his neck with his uninjured hand, the other jamming the syringe in just enough to break the skin. But he stopped there and Will remained absolutely still, doing his best to maintain eye contact, to let the Ripper read whatever he needed to. For a long time, they just stood there, foreheads nearly touching, both of them breathing heavily, blood soaking into his shirt. Under any other circumstances, it would be romantic. Minus the syringe and looming threat of death, of course.  

“I don’t need your help,” he said quietly, and Will fought the urge to nod lest he impale himself further onto the needle.

“I know. Pretty sure you’re a surgeon.”

The syringe pressed harder into his neck and he tensed up to keep from flinching.

“I only know that because I’ve seen pictures of your work. I’ve seen the incisions. But I didn't know your identity— I still don't. You can just let me fix you up, I’ll let you erase the video, and then you can just leave and never worry about me again. I don't want anything from you.”

“You already got what you wanted, didn't you?”

“Yes,” Will admitted without hesitation. There was no need to lie, and he tried to let that show in his eyes. “But I swear, I never intended for you to get hurt. Please just let me fix what I did.”

Again, there was a heavy silence between them, but eventually, Will felt the needle sliding out and away from his neck. There was a paleness to the man, a bit of sweat at his brow, but he didn't sway like the last two had. Even injured, he was still the strongest creature in the room.

“Ok. I’m going to get some supplies. Come with me and you can watch me.”

The Ripper hesitated before he guided Will towards his supply cabinet with a firm grip on his shoulder, the syringe aimed steadily at his jugular. He had no idea what was in it, or if it was empty and the Ripper intended to kill him with an air embolism. He didn’t want to find out either way, and he just dutifully stocked his tray, then gestured towards the table.

“We’re going over there now. Ok?”

The Ripper guided Will to the exam table and released his shoulder as he sat himself up on it, the syringe still poised to strike.

“You want to take all this off? Or I can cut it?”

The Ripper did not speak, instead giving him a look that said he didn’t like either idea. So Will just cuffed up the sleeve of his bloody shirt and suit jacket until he had enough area to work, then slowly began to clean and sterilize the ragged wound.

“He really got you deep…how did he even-,”

The syringe pricked his neck and Will shut up immediately. Apparently, Matthew getting the drop on him was a sore subject. He threaded his needle carefully and slowly to demonstrate that he meant nothing malicious before starting on the wound.

“I did send him to you. I wasn’t really even sure if he could find you, but he was, um…he was good at that kind of thing. He found me out too. I —I hoped you would just kill him and it would be over, but I guess he got chatty, didn't he?”

From his peripheral vision he could see the slight inclination of the Ripper’s head, and took it as a gesture to keep talking.

“He was stalking me. Had these delusions that we were meant to be together, and he just wasn’t backing off. I was too close to him to do it myself, so I told him I was already with you. I was hoping it would scare him off, but he was so damn set on ‘freeing' me.”

“He claimed I was abusing you,” the Ripper said suddenly, the words tinged with disgust at being accused of something so base and callow.

“It was part of my bluff.”

“He said you were afraid of me.”

“He was right about that, at least.”

It got quiet again, and Will worked industriously, wondering if he was ever going to see Abigail or his pack again. It wasn’t likely that the Ripper could be swayed to mercy if he mentioned them, but he really didn’t have much more to lose.  

“I was worried he’d force me into it by hurting someone: my people, or my animals. It was stupid, but I have a lot to lose, and I felt it would be worth the risk. If it matters at all, I regret—,”

The syringe drooped away from his neck suddenly, and Will looked up to find the Ripper looking dazed, shivering and panting as his head lolled to the side. Will looked closer at his eyes and saw his pupils were blown wide, nearly black.

“How much blood have you lost tonight?”

“Approximately two units,” came the strained answer, and Will barely managed to catch him with his shoulder as he tumbled forward, trying to keep the half-stitched arm stable with one hand.

“No, no, no, don’t,” he chanted, struggling to lay the Ripper down onto the table. “You’re heavier than you—oh, you're unconscious now.”

For a few moments, Will just stared as the Chesapeake Ripper slowly bled out on his exam table. He removed the syringe from his grip and looked it over- it was full of who knew what kind of liquid. Will turned back to his face and allowed himself to really look, to try to figure out who the Ripper really was and what had happened between him and Matthew. He focused his senses and thought hard, trying to ignore the scent of blood filling his nose. He thought he could smell chlorine besides that, and he leaned forward and took a delicate sniff at his hair: so the Ripper was a swimmer. With a darting glance down his body, he quirked an eyebrow appreciatively. It explained the physique he could tell was hiding under his well-tailored suit. And speaking of— Will wasn’t sure he’d seen a plaid suit outside of one of the fashion magazines in his waiting room. But the Ripper was a very daring dresser, and he had just the right amount of je ne sais quoi to pull it off, even as he lay dying in a rural vet clinic. Or…maybe it was a distraction. Yes, that explained it, explained a lot. He was a public figure, not famous, but well known by people who mattered. Tobias had met him at a concert, or an opera maybe, so he ran in very cultured, artistic circles. His accent was something European, sophisticated and hard to place, which he imagined was also by design. It contributed to his mysterious air, and all of these traits made him an admired eccentric, a murderer hiding in plain sight.

“How the hell have they not caught you yet? You’re practically advertising.”

Will sighed and thought about Matthew, whom he’d sent to his death by batting his lashes and playing the victim. He didn’t really feel bad about him dying, but he knew that whatever the Ripper had done to him, it was probably far worse than Will could have dreamed up on his own. However Matthew had gotten the first blow, it had not been enough, and he’d probably been caught up in his own victory, just like at the bowling alley. The promise of Will as a prize at the end made him even sloppier, and by the time the Ripper had made his move, Matthew had probably told him everything about him and the mission to save him from the clutches of his evil lover. The Ripper would have cleaned up and discarded the body, then drove with an apparently fatal wound to find the person who had instigated the attack, to find out how he had been compromised and why. But he had underestimated his injury, and now, he was getting close to joining Tobias in the freezer.

No one knew the Ripper was there. He wouldn’t have left any trace of him coming to the clinic, so whatever car he’d come in likely didn’t have GPS. It would be fruitless to search his overcoat for a phone or his wallet—he wouldn’t have brought either. There was no connection between them other than Matthew, and he wasn’t going to be talking now. The man that the Ripper was in public would become just another missing person, and Will would have killed two killers with one another. It was the perfect solution, and everything could go back to normal now. He should be proud of himself. He should be happy. He should be finishing him off so he could clean up and try to get some well-deserved sleep.

So why was he thinking about saving the Chesapeake Ripper?

“You'd probably kill me the second you woke up,” Will murmured, reaching out to brush a lock of hair away from his forehead, admiring the mix of sandy blond and gray, soft to the touch. He pulled his hand back, embarrassed at his impulsiveness. Even almost dead, he was still undeniably beautiful.

“Why can’t my friends find me someone like you?” he sighed, then sat on his stool and rolled forward to rest his elbows on the table beside the Ripper’s head, watching the color drain from his face. “Who am I kidding? You’re way out of my league.”

It wasn’t even self-deprecating; it was the simple truth. The cosmopolitan man in front of him would never look twice at him in passing, except maybe to turn up his lip at Will’s far less fashionable flannels. Where Will’s home was cozy and quaint and covered in a fine layer of dog hair, the Ripper would prefer a more luxurious setting, all dark polished wood and first edition books in an undecipherable order only he understood. This man was well-traveled and likely had several languages under his belt, whereas Will had only ever been out of the country a whopping four times to assist in free clinics across the border, and his Spanish was a joke. The Ripper probably preferred wine, rare and expensive, while Will was a cheap whiskey man, barely a step above store brand. And while they might have enough in common literature-wise for a few good decent conversations, that wasn’t much to start a relationship on—

“Woah,” he laughed at himself, sitting upright and raking his hands through his hair. “Slow down there. Don’t even know what team he’s batting for.”

After a moment of hesitation, curiosity won out and Will took another look at the whole of the Chesapeake Ripper: it was definitely both. So they had that in common too, then. Now all Will needed was a personality and a hundred other betterments and he might actually have a shot with this guy. But he was broken from his musings when he heard the sound of blood dripping to the ground, spilling over the side of the table. It was now or never.

Will sighed and looked at the dogs and his new cat.

“Don’t eat me if he leaves me dead on the floor, guys.”

With his mind made up, Will walked quickly towards the supply room and rummaged through the refrigerator until he found three units of his own blood. He kept it just in case things ever got a little too rough for him during a kill and he needed to regroup. And since he was a universal donor, it would be good for anyone else who’d need it, which was a good excuse for keeping it in the clinic. He’d never imagined it would be for a serial killer who’d come with the intention of killing him, but here they were.

He worked quickly setting up the transfusion, then he cobbled together some restraints with leashes and collars. When he’d properly trussed up the Ripper, he took a second to admire his handiwork, only mildly disturbed by how appealing it looked.

“I don’t not like this, I guess.”

He finished the repairs to his wrist, and with it clean and bandaged, Will pondered on whether to search his body for any other injuries. He decided against it; if he had been hurt anywhere else, the Ripper would have let him take off his jacket before. No, Will had done all he could, and it was up to the man himself now to pull through. He eyed the first unit of blood and saw it was half empty; when it was finished, he would push some morphine and other fluids. For now, all he could do was wait.

“Hey sweetheart. You miss me?”

Stevie hobbled towards him the moment Will plopped back down onto his cot, making awkward biscuits on his leg before batting at his hovering fingers with her good paw. Later, after hooking up the fluids and pushing the morphine, he took the dogs out, keeping Stevie tucked in his coat and wrapped up in his scarf. He wondered if she would take on dog characteristics if he raised her like part of the pack—though it might be safer for her to just live at the clinic. Back in the exam room, he found the Ripper was still unconscious, but some of the pink was coming back to his skin. Will tried not to dwell on the intimacy of his blood in someone else’s body and laid down to rest his eyes, just for a little while.

It seemed like he’d only just closed them when he felt something huge drop on top of him, knocking the wind out of him as he woke up gasping.

“Wh-what—,” he rasped as he tried to focus on the large shadow above him in the nearly pitch-black room. When he tried to rise, he felt cold metal pressed to his neck, most likely the scalpel he’d dropped earlier.

“What happened?”

Will was both relieved and terrified to hear the dignified accent of the Ripper. He pointed towards where his body was pinned, the man’s weight keeping him from breathing deep enough to speak. The Ripper thankfully shifted back just enough for him to fill his lungs and start to get his breath back.

“You lost a lot of blood, you were crashing. I gave you a transfusion.”

“I can’t imagine you’d just have human blood on hand.”

“It’s mine,” he gulped against the scalpel. For some reason, he was pretty sure it was the flat edge that was pressed to his skin. He tried not to dwell on the ‘why’ of that, and continued. “I keep it for emergencies. Universal donor. Clean”

The Ripper regarded him solemnly, then leaned down to bring his face into the ambient light of the monitors, so close to Will that he could feel the heat of his skin, his breath against his cheek. He looked so beautifully sinister, all sharp angles and deep shadows. It made Will want to reach up and touch him again.  

“What else?”

“I stitched up your arm. Gave you fluids, some morphine for the pain and to keep you asleep. Looks like it wasn't enough. Or I’m just really bad at dosing humans.”

“I have a high tolerance,” the Ripper said quietly as he leaned back, his eyes searching Will’s face. There was a softness to them that was definitely because of the drugs, but there was also something more he couldn’t make out in the dark. “Why? I was nearly dead. You’d have been rid of me and your misguided suitor in one fell swoop.”

“Yeah, it was wrapped up pretty tidy,” he shrugged and struggled to keep his eyes from darting to the Ripper’s lips. “I guess I just wanted to see what would happen.”

For a while, the Ripper just gazed down at him, his expression neutral, though there were small tics to read now, probably courtesy of the morphine lowering his guard. He could see curiosity, amusement at his words. Maybe he’d said just the right thing again. It certainly didn’t seem like it’d been the wrong thing.

“Who are you?” the Ripper asked, sounding almost exasperated, incredulity written across his face.

“I’m probably the stupidest person alive for not letting you die if this is the thanks I get.”

“Thanks?” the Ripper scoffed, and Will saw just the slightest bit of a grin on his lips, though it was edged with danger, not humor. “You are the reason this happened in the first place.”

“Well…yeah. But I think we’re even now, aren’t we? Even Steven. Everyone is happy, everyone lives…almost everyone.”

“You sent a killer after me unprovoked, and nearly cost me my life. What did you expect I would do?”

“What I really wanted was for you to kill him before he could open his big mouth. I didn’t think he could actually get the drop on you. Where did he find you? A pool?”

The scalpel was suddenly switched to the sharp side, and Will hissed at the slice into his skin, just under where his beard ended, and the Ripper brought their faces close again. He hoped the man couldn’t feel his heart drumming in his chest at the intimacy of their position. He was also trying not to think about the blood that was starting to drift south as part of his body’s horribly inappropriate reaction to being threatened. Because apparently Will was into that too, now. Great, good to know right that damn minute…

“How would you know that?” the Ripper demanded, seemingly oblivious to Will’s predicament. “You said you don’t know me.”

“He’s not the only one who’s good at reading people—I have this thing, this disorder. Hyper empathy. I can infer things, can work it out in my head. It’s like reliving a memory I never experienced. I smelled chlorine in your hair, that’s how I knew.”

There was a short silence and the Ripper cocked his head ever so slightly, like a curious bird. There was a quick glimmer of something that might have been recognition, but it was too dark to be sure.

“You smelled me?”

Will cringed and tried to fight the blush spreading across his face. Of all the things he’d said, the Ripper chosen that to fixate on?

“I-I mean, just a little.”

Out of nowhere, the Ripper let out an amused huff, and then looked just as surprised that he’d let it slip out as Will was to hear it.

“Tell me. From the beginning.”

The neutral expression had returned, but there was no hiding that little sparkle to his eyes now. It seemed like the Ripper wasn’t as interested in killing him as he was in talking now.

“Ok, yeah. But can you get up? This is cozy and all, but I’m pretty sure you’re crushing my liver.”

After another moment of deliberation, the Ripper was standing, and Will was free to try and hide his thankfully flagging erection. He opted to draw attention to the table where the blood bags were empty, but the fluids were still half full. The Ripper followed his gaze and Will quickly adjusted himself.

“You should really be hooked…hey, how did you get out anyway? I had you tied up every way possible!”

“It wouldn’t be the first time someone thought that,” the Ripper said with a level voice, but Will could detect just a hint of pride.

“Sounds like a good story. Come on, you can lie down here, but you really need to finish the fluids. I think you know that better than I do.”

Will was scanned by assessing eyes again, and he shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny. If he’d known to expect a guest, he’d have worn something a little less revealing than his underclothes. Feeling self-conscious made him irritable, and he snapped at the man staring at him with suspicion.  

“Hey, I did not just give you my backup stash of blood just to try to kill you now! Give me a little credit here.”

There was probably something in his tone that rang true enough because the Ripper did in fact lie down on the cot, removing his suit jacket. He cuffed his shirtsleeve up to reveal a finely muscled forearm that would probably be haunting his dreams for a long time. For a brief moment, Will pictured himself straddling that solid body, pressing a scalpel against that elegant neck, and he felt himself start to get hard again. God, four years untouched was a really long time if he was crossing his murder fantasies with his sexual ones. Or maybe the Ripper just had that effect on him?

Will ignored his body and reconnected the IV drip, working to get the man situated and comfortable. But when he started fussily tucking a blanket around him, he was met with a hand on his shoulder to stop him, and an amused little grin that made his stomach flutter. His cheeks burned again and he looked for Stevie, who had managed to bury herself under a very obliging Winston’s tail on the other side of the room.

“Hey, don’t be scared sweetheart, everything’s ok.”

He fetched the cat and returned to the Ripper, rolling up to the cot on his stool.

“Here. This is Stevie. I'm thinking of training her to be a comfort animal for my patients. You can be the first one.”

The Ripper looked bewildered by the offer of the now purring kitten, but he did reach out and take her, settling her on his lap as he looked at Will expectantly for his promised explanation. He swallowed hard at the tenderness in how he handled Stevie, supporting her cast and letting her scent his hand. He’d passed that test with flying colors, and now Will was way more turned on than a person should be about a serial killer with a kitten gnawing on his finger.

“Ok so, story time I guess,” he began, and for the next half hour, Will told the Chesapeake Ripper about the two intruders and how he’d killed them, then about Matthew Brown and the admittedly dicey plan to send him to a certain death.

“I’ve been looking for Budge and Gideon,” the Ripper admitted, looking thoughtfully down at Stevie as he stroked her head. “Seems you tied up my loose ends.”

“And you tied up mine. Strangers in a Vet Clinic,” Will joked, then cringed and looked away awkwardly at his dumb joke. The Ripper didn't seem put off by it, and there might have been a hint of amusement in his eyes. Or it might have been the morphine.

“Do you hunt, Dr. Graham? Or do you just let opportunities come to you?”

“I fish,” he grinned, and shrugged. “I test the waters, see what bites. Seems like I’ve been quite the lure lately. Lucky me.”

The Ripper nodded, and Will could feel himself being analyzed again. Surprisingly, it didn’t fray at his nerves like when Alana did it.

“Your gift, the hyper empathy. Does it help you? Or does it harm you?”

“Both. I don’t sleep much. Too many bad memories that aren’t mine. But I am pretty good at picking us out of a crowd,” he said with a touch of his own pride. Then he frowned. “Not you though. I couldn’t see anything but what you let me see when you were at the door. I didn’t think twice about letting you in. You saw the cameras, assumed there were alarms, and knew the only way in quietly was for me to open the door to you.”

The Ripper said nothing in reply, but inclined his head just slightly as if he was waiting for more.

“You're methodical and patient. Except for the fact that you completely disregarded your injury and came straight here to kill me, and almost killed yourself in the process. You're not usually that impulsive, but you knew you had to get rid of me before I found out that Matthew was dead. Nothing was going to stop you from plugging the leak and keeping your cover. You weren’t worried about dying— I think maybe you don't even feel fear.”

There was a glimmer of something feral in the Ripper’s eyes at that declaration, and while he was instinctively frightened by it, he was also very, very aroused by it. He was glad he was sitting on his stool backwards, the backrest hiding yet another bodily reaction from the man causing it.  

“I envy that. I was terrified when you I realized who you really were.”

“That fear saved your life. You would be dead if you'd kept fighting.”

“A dog knows when to submit to a dominant opponent,” Will said with a gesture to the dogs, who took it as an ok to come sit at his feet, the puppies following. “He shows his belly, makes himself vulnerable. I like to think I’m at least marginally smarter than these guys.”

“I’m inclined to agree. Your plan was…bold, but if Mr. Brown had played his part with more reserve, I truly don't believe I would have known you were involved.”

“Yeah, he couldn't even do that right,” Will huffed, lowering his eyes to rest on the bandaged wrist. “Will you tell me? What happened with him? How did he find you?”

Stevie yawned and stretched in his lap while the man watched her with an uncensored fondness. He bit back a smile at the idea of the Chesapeake Ripper wanting to take her home with him. Will would not object if he asked.

“We were not strangers. In my daily life, my other skills are sometimes sought out by law enforcement, occasionally at the -,”

“Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane,” Will sighed, interrupting. “I swear, I really had no idea who you were, and that is a hell of a coincidence. Ah, sorry, go on.”

He saw that amused glint again, and Will looked down to hide his reddening face. Seriously, the Ripper had no right looking so devilishly handsome when he'd just been at death’s door.

He told a brief, concise story about being ambushed at his health club while swimming laps, the elaborate setup involving a noose and a bucket and wrist slitting, as well as the cliché villain monologue he’d been so dearly hoping Matthew would avoid. Will’s brain illustrated the event behind his eyes, though it was still vague.

“How did you manage to kill him?”

“I strangled him. Not a method I prefer.”

Will frowned and tried to picture the scene in his head; something wasn't adding up.

“But weren’t you still tied up?”

“I didn't use my hands.”

Suddenly, Will was completely submerged in his imagination, as if those words had plunged him into the Ripper’s own memory. He could see Matthew, cocky and careless, lingering too close as he talked on and on, moving to slit the other wrist. The Ripper had been swimming, so he was just in his suit, which Will’s perverted mind oh so helpfully pictured as a speedo; it was all the better to show off the shapely legs that had wrapped around Matthew’s neck until he’d been strangled and smothered between them.

Oh?” Will croaked out, flinching as his voice cracked on the word, averting his eyes quickly so the Ripper wouldn't see the arousal burning there.  

God, wasn’t that the way to go? He hoped Matthew had at least been aware enough to know how lucky he'd been to be strangled by the Chesapeake Ripper’s thighs. He swallowed hard and rubbed over his beard, raking his hand through his hair —his trifecta of nervous tics—pretending he didn’t see the now unmistakable grin on the man’s face. Yeah, he was being super obvious. It was time to change the subject.

“I uh…I’ve been following your work. Only since Gideon, I’m a little late to the party. I mean, I’d heard of you, but only in passing. I mostly ignore the world outside mine.”

“I would suppose your empathy requires you to limit your input to avoid over-stimulation? You've been mistakenly placed on the spectrum before, haven't you?”

Will nodded, and while it was a pretty blunt question, he liked that the Ripper was able to draw his own conclusions. Which was very strange considering he hated being psychoanalyzed. Will suddenly remembered seeing what he’d thought was recognition earlier, and suddenly, he just knew.

“You're a psychiatrist,” he said quietly, feeling a little unsettled. “And you've heard of me before, the studies on my condition at least. And profiling- that’s what you help law enforcement with, isn’t it?”

The Ripper tensed and stared at Will sharply, but he couldn't shut himself up. He rolled closer, feeling giddy at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

“You're profiling your own cases for the FBI, aren’t you? Jesus, how the hell…seriously, that's brilliant! I was wondering how they hadn't figured you out yet. You’re steering them away from you.”

He seemed to relax slightly, but there was still a bit of wariness in the set of his mouth, and he didn’t comment on Will’s supposition, which was confirmation in and of itself. It was disappointing that he was obviously done talking about it, but they were technically still strangers. Of course the Ripper would not just go around giving a tour of his inner machinations.

“I am still unsure as to what drives you, Dr. Graham. I find myself intrigued. A killer who kills other killers, but devotes his life to animals —and uncommon pathology.”

“Animals are just better than people. There’s nothing complicated about them, and even when they’re violent, they’re just following their nature, like a savage innocence. I started…it was an accident the first time. I kept waiting to feel bad about it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how much better everything was without him around. It made me wonder if… maybe if there were more like him out there that would be better off in the ground. It makes me feel like I’m taking out the bad and making room for good things. Like I’m doing the world a service. I might not have the vision to create art from them like you do, but it all serves the same purpose, doesn’t it? We’re both weeding the garden.”

“Yes,” the Ripper said in a voice just above a whisper, his eyes intense and his lips just slightly parted, as if Will had said something especially poignant rather than just babbled about his vigilante tendencies. “Dr. Graham, I do believe you and I have much in common.”

Will felt himself squirming with bashfulness at what was most definitely praise, and he worried at his lips, glancing towards the bloody floor and exam table for distraction.

“I should probably clean this all up. It’ll be morning soon. I, uh…I don’t know what happens from here. Between us.”

“Should anything happen?” the Ripper asked in an irritatingly neutral tone, a classic psychiatrist deflection. Will looked back at him, but his face was unreadable. The morphine was wearing off, then. “As you said before, everyone is happy, everyone lives. You risked everything to keep your life exactly as it is, and I have no intention to call on you again. So, it would seem that nothing happens now except we move on.”

Move on. It was the same thing he’d said to Matthew Brown before he’d sent him on his suicide mission. Will understood now why he’d been so hurt at the time, because it made his chest ache to hear it directed to himself. How could someone just move on knowing what he knew? That someone out there understood him on a level that no one else in the world was capable of. Not Alana or Beverly, not Peter, not even Abigail. None of the people in his life would ever see through the veil he used to hide his darkness from the world— a darkness that he embraced and kept tamed, and now longed to share with another who could appreciate it as the gift it was. Could that person be the Chesapeake Ripper who lay before him, in his cot, with his cat, in his clinic, with his blood pumping through his veins? Will could only imagine how it would feel to have this man inside of him the same way; actually, in several other ways too, but that wasn’t the priority right now. He wondered what letting the Ripper into his life might make of him, what it might change.

This must have been how Tobias had felt when he’d first figured the Ripper out. It was how Matthew had felt when he’d finally seen through Will’s façade. Whenever he’d imagined having a partner that he could share everything with, he’d only ever seen it end in destruction, in blood and horror, and there was nothing beautiful or useful about it. Tobias and Matthew would have been poor fits for Will; they would have struggled for dominance, been too predictable—been too unpredictable—too much of everything. Will would have eventually either lost himself in them, or killed them out of sheer exasperation.  But this man, this vicious artist with his quiet patience, his fierce control…well, he was a man Will could depend on to lead him away from that cliff in his mind that always beckoned, tempting him to see how far he could lean over before he tumbled into madness. Tobias, Matthew, even Gideon: they had all been too much or not enough for Will. But this man—the Chesapeake Ripper himself—was just right.

Of course, he could be totally and fatally wrong; it wasn’t like he had even scratched the surface of what the Ripper hid behind his veil with just a cursory read and some pictures on TattleCrime. There were probably things about this man that went far beyond the boundaries that Will had set for himself. He might inadvertently—or purposely— cross a line again and find out first hand. It was definitely safer to part ways and move on. His stomach turned at the thought of never seeing this man again, but it was the smart thing to do.

Will looked up at the Ripper, who was still waiting for a response, his face and eyes an impenetrable fortress that Will wanted to invade despite his better judgement. He had no idea what he would find inside, but what was the fun in always knowing what to expect? And he’d already taken some incredibly stupid risks in the past few weeks and survived—what was one more?

“Actually, I was—I was hoping you’d—would you-,” he stumbled, blushing hard at his own gibberish. “Dammit, will you please tell me your name at least so I don't have to keep calling you ‘The Ripper’ in my head? Its only fair.”

The silence that followed was deeper than any other before, and Will could tell that the Ripper was likely searching his own mind for a reason not to indulge his request. But eventually, he stopped stonewalling and offered his hand with a genteel nod.  

“Dr. Hannibal Lecter.”

“Dr. Lecter. Hannibal,” Will murmured as he averted his eyes, feeling his face go hot as the fucking sun at the feel of that name in his mouth, the way that hand wrapped so firmly around his.

When Will looked back up, he felt his heart flutter at the expression that met him. Warm brown eyes glimmered with hope and anticipation, while his lips parted oh so temptingly, as if giving Will a glimpse of the secrets that lay behind his teeth. Dr. Lecter’s hand was still holding his, tighter now than before.

So—it wasn’t just his hopeful, desperate imagination after all…

“Dr. Lecter, would you like to come home with me for breakfast?”

And then, as if the final barrier of his self-control had crumbled to dust, Hannibal’s face spread into a real, Duchene smile that made Will feel like he was watching the dawning of something beautiful.

“I’d be delighted to, Dr. Graham.”