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we idols of small gods

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Will knows that Garret Jacob Hobbs is the Shrike beyond a shadow of a doubt when the man’s employment papers feel like frost against his skin.

There’s a question halfway off his tongue--an idle “Do you smell that?” asked of Dr. Lecter--when Will realizes exactly what he’s smelling: river water and clean metal. Will hears the rush of the stream clear as day, for all the hundreds of miles between him and the water. His fingertips ache against the improbable cool of the paper. Somewhere, deep below Will’s skin, he carries the hooks of his Rider; as he touches a finger against Garret Jacob Hobbs’ name, it feels like every single hook goes taut, pulled by a string he can’t see.

Will manages to scramble for an excuse under Dr. Lecter’s watchful eyes, spluttering out something about a missing address, but he’s honestly not sure he’s fooling anyone. It’s hard to lie, with his Rider at the reins.

By the time the car rolls to a stop outside the Hobbs residence, Will knows it’s too late.

The car’s door swings open under his hand. Will looks at the front door with his eyes, takes in its shape and color, and means to step towards it--but his feet lead away, his steps silent. He has just enough presence of mind to realize Dr. Lecter is following him like a shadow, but not enough control to turn the doctor back.

It’s a strange separation: Will’s body moves, and Will’s mind slips under. His legs stalk forward, his hand curls around the gun holster at his waist, and yet even as he moves, Will feels it all from a distance. His consciousness sinks under deep water, caught where it is cold and quiet, settled and still in a drowning current. He sees the day’s light and yet it cannot touch him in the depths. His mental absence and physical presence in this moment come to balance. The river rushes in his ears.

There is a window. In the window is a man’s back, his shoulders, his head. Will’s hands draw his gun. His fingers are steady. Will pulls the trigger: one single shot.

There is a man in the window, and then there is no longer one.

Dr. Lecter’s eyes look more red than brown when Will turns; if Will were here, if Will were not deep in the river, he might think the man looked hungry.

“The family might need our help,” Will says calmly, and Dr. Lecter nods. When Will turns, Dr. Lecter walks like his shadow, into the house that could not save the monster who loved it.

Will comes to with a shaking gasp in--where the hell is he? His motel room, from the look of it. His skin is dry, but he feels clammy, and this time not from sweat.

“It is 4:50 PM,” comes Dr. Lecter’s pleasantly accented voice. When Will actually looks around, it’s hard to imagine how he missed the other man: Dr. Lecter is standing at the motel’s lackluster excuse for a kitchen counter, transferring some sort of food onto plates. “You are in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and your name is Will Graham.” The doctor sweeps towards Will gracefully, with a plate in each of his large, deft hands. “It is a grounding exercise, of sorts,” Dr. Lecter continues, setting a plate in front of Will. “You seemed in need of solid ground.”

A shiver goes down Will’s spine. “Yeah,” Will forces himself to say, after a moment. “I guess you could say that.”

“Then I am happy I was here to provide it.” The doctor’s smile isn’t wide, but it looks sincere. “Now, eat.”

Force of habit makes Will pick up the silverware before him--genuine silverware, that is, and Will realizes now that the elegant china plate in front of him isn’t exactly standard motel stock either--and pick at the food Dr. Lecter’s provided. Much like breakfast, it’s delicious. “This is now the second meal you’ve made me today, Dr. Lecter.”

“I am always happy to cook for a friend.”

A half-laugh shakes its way out of Will’s throat, producing a startling, disused, dusty sort of sound. Will puts down his fork. When he darts a single glance towards Dr. Lecter’s eyes, the doctor is looking back; their eyes catch, and the hooks under Will’s skin rattle. Will looks away, quick as he can, and grips the table until the hooks still. “Why are you here, doctor? Still? After--” Will swallows, and doesn’t finish his thought.

From the corner of his eyes, Will watches Dr. Lecter’s face. The other man cuts another neat bite of his food, and lifts it gently to his thin lips. He chews, the motion efficient: there is something indulgent in the creases of his eyes when he swallows and begins to speak. “You may be the empath in the room,” Dr. Lecter offers, “but your abundance does not make others deficient. I am a doctor. I flatter myself that I recognize when someone ought not be alone.”

Nothing about the doctor’s words or tone are scolding, and yet Will feels scolded. “Sorry,” he says. Of course Dr. Lecter is here out of courtesy, here to look after Will. He wants to feel indignant about needing that sort of care, but--well. Will went very deep, this time. With a slow breath to reorient himself, Will asks, “Garret Jacob Hobbs?”

“Is dead,” Dr. Lecter says, evenly. “His wife was badly injured prior to our arrival--police officers on scene believe he may have seen our car approaching, and been driven to desperation. However, your intervention was timely. Garret Jacob Hobbs has a daughter--Abigail--and she informed us that your shot prevented her father from slitting her throat.”

Something tight in Will’s chest relaxes. With another glance at the edge of Dr. Lecter’s face, Will asks, “Did anyone say whether Mrs. Hobbs was likely to survive?”

“She was entering surgery when we departed the hospital, but, from personal experience alone, I believe her prognosis to be fair, if her surgeon is sufficiently skilled. Time alone will tell.”

Dr. Lecter dabs gently at his mouth with a cloth napkin, and Will wants--suddenly, fiercely, and terrifyingly--to open the other man up and crawl inside, and shield himself within the other man’s impeccable calm, his unshakable stillness.

He shudders away from the thought as soon as he’s had it. It doesn’t come tinged with river water, but Will can never quite trust himself in the hours after.

It’s his shame over his own gruesome imagination that makes Will open his mouth. “I probably owe you an explanation for all of--that,” Will says, wincing faintly on the last word. He hates explaining this--still hasn’t told anyone at the FBI besides Jack, who he had to tell--but what must the doctor be thinking, with Will pale and twitching at the table beside him, with only vague memories of killing a man a few hours prior?

It comes as a surprise, then, to hear the doctor’s perfectly enunciated, “Quite to the contrary, I believe I understand perfectly.” Will feels himself jerk upright, and looks sharply at Dr. Lecter’s face, just avoiding his eyes. Dr. Lecter leans closer, and says, “You have a Rider, don’t you, Will?”

Will feels--feels stripped to the bone, fileted open. “How did you--?”

“You are not the first person I’ve met who is tasked with carrying a god,” Dr. Lecter says, perfectly steady.

The words come spilling up to Will’s lips, like water from the lungs of the near-drowned: “A small god. It’s--I only carry a small god.” It’s not what he means to say. He means to ask how, exactly, Dr. Lecter has met another carrier, when to the best of Will’s knowledge there are maybe two hundred of them in total--or maybe he means to ask am I that obvious? even though he desperately doesn’t want to know the answer. Instead the truth drips from his lips, and Dr. Lecter’s gaze feels like a physical weight against his skin.

“And what small divinity has chosen you for its home, Will?”

Defenseless, Will tastes river water in his mouth, and remembers the sickening drag of the current, pulling him under. “The god of clean hunts,” Will says, and clenches his hands so tightly that his fingernails break open the skin of his palm, “clean catches, and--”

It physically hurts to keep the last two words in, but Will bites his tongue, and swallows the faint burst of his own blood. It’s easier to stomach the tang of iron than it would be to bear Dr. Lecter’s mistrust if Will told the whole truth. Will’s visibly unstable to begin with; no one wants to hear him call his Rider the small god of clean kills.

Thankfully, Dr. Lecter doesn’t press, despite the obvious way Will’s cut himself off. “You bear quite a weight, Will. Thank you for trusting me with it. Now please, do eat. Your food will grow cold, and I think you may be in need of the energy.”

Just this morning, Will sat at this same table, and told the doctor that he didn’t find him interesting.

Will picks up his fork, and, under Dr. Lecter’s watchful eyes, eats.

No one’s ever made him a liar this quickly before.